The War Over the Narrative

A morbid sense of deja vu haunts Israel's view of the American response to the terrorist attacks and the cries of jihad that have descended on the United States like a thunderbolt. Albeit on a local scale, we have already had first-hand experience of all the twists and turns of this particular plot.

A morbid sense of deja vu haunts Israel's view of the American response to the terrorist attacks and the cries of jihad that have descended on the United States like a thunderbolt. Albeit on a local scale, we have already had first-hand experience of all the twists and turns of this particular plot.

First comes the initial shock, with the traumatic loss of deterrence; an enemy, armed primarily with deep animosity, belittles the ability of the heavily-armed superpower to punish it and takes a flying kick straight at its soft underbelly.

Terror and panic spread instantaneously, in a self-disseminating whirlpool. And who can withstand the unavoidable, immediate demand for an "appropriate response" - one that will not only educate and punish, but will also, in some magic fashion, restore the deterrence that has been forever lost?

At this stage, when the national agenda has been entrusted primarily to the armed forces and security echelons, it becomes more and more obvious that military responses have already been taken into account by the terrorists: the responses, in themselves, constitute an integral part of the terrorist act - and perhaps even the major part of it. Indeed, it is only when the reprisal attacks begin that the real battle is joined: the war over the narrative. It is then that we discover how whimsical human memory is, how deceptive the most linear plot line can be: who is to blame? Who is the scoundrel? Who is the victim? Who started first?

How bizarre - what was crystal clear in the first two hours after the terrorist attack begins to grow vague, with surprising alacrity. All at once, cause and effect fuse into an inseparable melange. Not only is the response to terrorism portrayed as an act of terrorism - even worse than the act of terror itself - but it is conceived as the reason for the act, as proof that the hatred of the terrorists was justified from the outset, and, therefore, also understandable.

Isn't it obvious that the ghastly terrorist attack was perpetrated as an advance act of revenge for the cruelty of the act of reprisal that would come in its aftermath? The attack on the Twin Towers was intended as an a priori act of revenge for the "massacre" that the United States would subsequently commit in Afghanistan, just like the suicide bombing at Sbarro was an act of revenge, in advance, for the suffering to be caused by the closures, roadblocks and liquidations with which Israel would then respond.

Even the waves of mass fury in the wake of the response to the attack - which themselves provide the foundation for additional hatred and acts of terrorism - were calculated in advance and then served up as part of a package deal, with the attack itself.

In this illusionary world - most familiar to us from the countless attacks and responses in our own region - terrorism always wins, since it scrambles the cue cards of the drama, inciting debate over the question of where to place the starting point of this story. Was it in the territorial dispossession that took place sometime at the beginning of the 20th century? Was it in the ensuing war of revenge? Was it in the occupation that took place while repulsing the existential threat? Or in the acts of terrorism designed to resist the occupation? Or in the injustice committed during the course of preventive measures taken to quell the terrorism?

Indeed, who can even remember the Twin Towers after seeing an Afghan orphan? Who remembers the bombing while watching an old woman at a roadblock? The plot grows even more chaotic when you throw in "post-modernism," in which everything is relative, and "political correctness," in which everyone is right. For instance, even when Taliban spokesmen speak explicitly about their death-endorsing culture as an avowedly sanguinary antithesis to the life-endorsing culture of the West, everyone - Europeans included - is disgusted by the "incorrectness" and "racial condescension" in the remarks made by Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. This leader dared to speak out about - Goodness gracious! - the benefits of the spiritual riches and commitment to life of Western culture.

All attention is focused on the military and security challenges posed by this medieval Islamic terror; but whenever it comes to the spiritual and moral gauntlet that has been thrown down, the West begins to walk on eggshells, even adopting a submissive mood: who would have believed that of all things, the monstrous terrorist attacks would open up the eyes of the West to the latent humanist light of Islam? It isn't clear whether this is another expression of the "dilemma of the American spirit," in which bin Laden's finger-wagging and theological prattle are not met with any real moral or spiritual response beyond the flag-waving and tough sheriff's bluster of President George W. Bush; or whether Western values are so patently obvious that there is no need to elaborate on them in more than a single word - "freedom."

And what does all this say about the Israeli narrative? With what word can its own raison d'etre and struggle be summarized? "Normalcy?" "Hebrew culture?" Or perhaps "settlements?" Faced with the collapse of the peace process and waves of terror, calls have been raised for "a return to ourselves," "a return to the basic values." However, it took very little time to realize - with the establishment of the "unity government" - that we actually have nowhere to return to, except to reprisal raids, the spirit of Golda and the irrepressibly insane caprice called "the continuation of the settlement enterprise."

"Whoever battles with a monster had better ensure that it does not turn him into a monster," said Nietzche. "And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."

Simplistic, vulgar and flabby as America may be, I wish we were animated by the same American spirit that thinks it knows not only how, and for how long, and against whom to fight, but most especially, for what.