The Magazine

Facing Reality

The answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jan 19, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 17 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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Bank and old Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and Gaza--as well as Sinai, since returned to Egypt) with the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, supported by Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Except for the Saudis, every one of these Arab governments was a secularist or modernizing autocracy. On the Arab side the most important man by far was Nasser, führer of Egypt, who as a young man had been a "Green Shirt" (modeled on Mussolini's Black Shirts and Hitler's Brown Shirts) and stood for "nonaligned," left-leaning, bellicose secularist nationalism.

Fatah and the PLO were also secular organizations to start, and in some respects still are. (Fatah was founded in 1954, the PLO in '64; they merged in '67.) In the late '60s and 1970s, the PLO made common cause with far-left terror groups such as the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhof gang, and other wacko-Marxist murderers. At one point, Baader-Meinhof gangsters traveled to PLO camps for elementary terror training.

The English actress Vanessa Redgrave represents the sort of bloody-minded Westerner who supported Palestinian terrorism in the 1970s. In 1977, Redgrave made an infamous propaganda film on behalf of Palestinian terrorists. But she was hardly endorsing Islam or any other religion. She was a Marxist (and, as far as one can tell, still is). The Palestinian terrorists were members in good standing of a worldwide fraternity that included the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Communists, Castroite Cubans, the Sandinistas, and dozens of other far-left groups that mostly hated religion to the extent they bothered with it at all.

Obviously most Arabs are devout Muslims, and Islam has a long history of jihad. An event of the late 1800s suggests modern Iran: An Islamic leader in the Sudan who proclaimed himself the Mahdi, God-given ruler of the whole Islamic world and (in effect) the messiah, announced a jihad against the British colonial authorities. His army drove the British and their Egyptian allies out of the Sudan. In the process his troops slaughtered or enslaved thousands of British, Egyptians, and Sudanese and presented the Mahdi (as a sentimental remembrance of victory) with the severed head of the British commanding general on a pike. The Mahdist army then launched invasions of neighboring territories, but was finally destroyed by the British at Omdurman in 1898.

No one doubts that the Muslim religion can inspire gigantic ferocity--yet Islam, like horseradish, is available in anything from super-hot to extra-mild. Only with the rise of Khomeini's Iran in 1979, the Saudis' increasingly lavish support for the spread of Wahhabism, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 did modern Islam become the dominant hate engine of the Middle East, powering anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish, anti-Western bloodlust. The Arabs are an intensely religious-minded people, like the Jews, but the same religious devotion that is focused today on blood-and-guts Islam could also be focused on a kinder, gentler variety, such as the one preached in the 19th century by the Emir Abd el-Kader. (On Abd el-Kader, see the book by John W. Kiser, reviewed in last week's issue.) Religious devoutness persists from generation to generation, but can take many different systems and causes as its target--as Jews are well aware.

The Bush administration, which has done so many small and medium things wrong and the biggest of all things right, could leave the world a parting gift by introducing some appropriate resolution in the Security Counsel or General Assembly. A proclamation that "anti-Zionism is a form of racism" might be just the thing. (The infamous "Zionism is racism" resolution, passed in 1975 and rescinded in 1991, remains a perfect symbol of depraved worldwide attitudes to Israel.) Or a U.S. resolution might call on the U.N. to take the unprecedented step of enforcing its own charter and booting out members that preach the destruction of Israel. (Article 2 part 4: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.") To start the ball rolling, Iran might be designated for immediate expulsion.

The resolution would be savaged and hooted down. But here and there it might make people think.

David Gelernter is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and a professor of
computer science at Yale.