First Published:   11:15 , 07.13.05
Latest Update:   11:20 , 07.13.05


Terror's Roots
Photo: AFP Terror in London: 'Root causes' and anti-Semitism Photo: AFP
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Playing blame game

Israeli-Palestinian conflict not 'cause' of terrorism; Islamist terrorism is root cause
By Abraham H. Foxman

No sooner was the tragic news out concerning the carnage in London than the old refrain about the "root causes" of terrorism, particularly the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, surfaced once again. One egregious example was a BBC interview with King Abdullah of Jordan in which the reporter led the king in that direction by her own comments, and the king was ready to oblige by citing the centrality of the conflict in influencing terrorism.



The implication of these remarks and others is that if only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were resolved, the world would not be facing the huge threat of Islamist terrorism.


I cannot help but compare this specious claim to the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in several ways. Anti-Semitism is often defined as the blaming of Jews for the ills of a particular society when the members of that society are unwilling to acknowledge the true sources of those ills.  

The face of terror's victims: London, 7/7


So, too, with this accusation about terrorism. It is daunting to admit that the irrational hatred of the Islamist terrorists is so deep and our vulnerability to it so great (as evidenced by the London Underground attack), because it then demands an immense, complicated and difficult commitment to overcome the threat.


World of illusion


Why not instead pursue the world of illusion, finding the easy explanation for the problem that requires limited action and a clear solution: resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is a euphemism for forcing the Israelis to give up (since it is Islamic grievances that have to be satisfied), and then everything will be fine.


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This approach has a certain additional appeal because it has the appearance of reality about it since the conflict in the region does generate strong emotions. In fact, however, the "root cause" of Islamist terrorism is simply that there are murderers out there who will stop at nothing to extirpate and terrorize anyone whom they don't like (which includes Christians, Jews, Muslims and a lot of other folk).


All kinds of reasons, motives and goals are attached to this behavior, but in the end one is left with the truth that it is brutal action by people who want to maim and murder innocents.


'Root cause'


To explain their behavior as a reaction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to achieve the dual negative results that anti-Semitism achieves: it diverts attention away from real solutions to the challenge facing mankind and potentially causes harm to the party being scapegoated. In other words, this is a dangerous perspective for Israel but it is equally perilous, if not more so, for the West in its necessary struggle to defeat the great civilizational threat of Islamist terror.


If we are to win this struggle, we must accurately define the problem. Islamist terrorism itself is the ultimate “root cause.” It is the root cause of the Middle East conflict because absent its violence and ideology of hatred, Israelis and Palestinians would likely be able to work out the issues between them in a way where both parties could live in peace and security.


And it is the only cause of the killings themselves, whether in New York, Bali, Madrid, or now apparently in London. One need not search for other explanations. Indeed, this search weakens the civilized world and delays the inevitable realization (which will arrive, if not sooner, then when the terrorists use weapons of mass destruction) that we are in this together and only a united front, including from the Islamic world, will save our civilization.


So one measuring rod for how we are doing is clear. The more there is talk about the grievances of the conflict being at the root of terrorism, the less confident one should be about the seriousness of the war against terrorism. And the more that rationalizations like these are set aside, the more hopeful one can be that this struggle will be won.


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Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of “Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism”