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True Lies

Arab journalism is full of vicious lies, which often go unnoticed since they appear in Arabic. But there's one website which provides helpful translations.

11:01 PM, Mar 4, 2002 • By CLAUDIA WINKLER
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LIKE THE Cold War, the war on terrorism is partly a battle of ideas--ideas about, for example, the tension between truth and tolerance. Some of the challenges before us are suggested in the juxtaposition of two documents relating to the American founding, one an authentic letter from George Washington, the other a vicious forgery attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

President Washington's famous letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, dated August 17, 1790, expresses the notion--still today revolutionary in much of the world--that citizens possess freedom of conscience not as a gift of government but as a right:

"All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

That Washington regards the Jews he is addressing as full Americans is unequivocal. He ends:

"May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy."

It is a lesser founding document, to be sure, but one every schoolchild should know and all Americans should cherish.

The other--the fabrication--is of 1930s vintage, a well-known Nazi forgery published in 1935 in a German "Handbook on the Jewish Question." It recently resurfaced, in the January 9, 2002, issue of the Egyptian government weekly Akher Sa'a in an article by Salah Al-Din Hilmi, under the headline "The Jews are Bloodsuckers and Will Yet Conquer America." It can be read at memri.org, the website of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Middle East Media Research Institute, which performs the invaluable service of translating items of interest from the Arabic and Hebrew media.

Benjamin Franklin, so the writer claims, during a break in the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1789, called the immigration of Jews to America "a great danger." "Why?" Franklin supposedly asked:

"Because they are vampires. . . . If they are not excluded from the United States by the Constitution, within at least 100 years they shall stream into this country in such numbers that they shall rule and destroy us and change our form of government for which we Americans shed our blood and sacrificed our lives, property, and personal freedom.

"If the Jews are not excluded, within 200 years our children will be working in the fields to feed the Jews while they remain in the counting houses, gleefully rubbing their hands."

But of course the Constitutional Convention was not in session in 1789, and the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, which the Egyptian writer claimed houses this purported document, has no such thing in its collection.

So the Bush administration must figure out: How to get the American message across to cultures so repelled and threatened by freedom that they ward it off with grotesque caricatures and manifest lies? How to deal with governments complicit in their intellectuals' flight from truth?

Americans tend to assume that freedom is appealing. We always have. As Washington wrote to the Newport congregation, "The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation."

But fascists, whether Nazis in 1935 or Islamists in 2002, have other aspirations in mind.

Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.