This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
“Disproportion” is the concept of the moment. Do you know how to play? Let’s say 150 missiles are lobbed at northern Israel from the Lebanese village of Qana and the Israelis respond with missiles of their own that kill 28 people. Whoa, man, that’s way “disproportionate.”
But let’s say you’re a northwestern American municipality — Seattle, for example — and you haven’t lobbed missiles at anybody, but a Muslim male shows up anyway and shoots six Jewish women, one of whom tries to flee up the stairs, but he spots her, leans over the railing, fires again and kills her. He describes himself as “an American Muslim angry at Israel” and tells 911 dispatchers: ‘‘These are Jews. I want these Jews to get out. I’m tired of getting pushed around, and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East.”
Well, that’s apparently entirely “proportionate,” so “proportionate” that the event is barely reported in the American media, or (if it is) it’s portrayed as some kind of random convenience-store drive-by shooting. Pamela Waechter’s killer informed his victims that “I’m only doing this for a statement,” but the world couldn’t be less interested in his statement, not compared to his lawyer’s statement that he’s suffering from “bipolar disorder.” And the local FBI guy, like the Mounties in Toronto a month or so back, took the usual no-jihad-to-see-here line. ‘‘There’s nothing to indicate it’s terrorism related,” said Special Assistant Agent-In-Charge David Gomez. In America, terrorism is like dentistry and hairdressing: It doesn’t count unless you’re officially credentialed.
On the other hand, when a drunk movie star gets pulled over and starts unburdening himself of various theories about “f—-ing Jews,” hold the front page! That is so totally “disproportionate” it’s the biggest story of the moment. The head of America’s most prominent Jewish organization will talk about nothing else for days on end, he and the media too tied up dealing with Mel Gibson’s ruminations on “f—-ing Jews” to bother with footling peripheral stories about actual f—-ing Jews murdered for no other reason than because they’re f—-ing Jews.
On the other other hand, when the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, announces that if Jews “all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide,” that’s not in the least “disproportionate.” When President Ahmadinejad of Iran visits Malaysia and declares, apropos Lebanon, that “although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate cease-fire must be implemented,” well, that’s just a bit of mildly overheated rhetoric prefacing what’s otherwise a very helpful outline of a viable peace process: (Stage One) Please don’t keep degrading our infrastructure until (Stage Two) we’ve got the capacity to nuke you.
Right now, Israel’s best chance of any decent press would seem to be if Mel Gibson flies in and bawls out his waiter as a “f—-ing Jew.”
What can we deduce from these various acts, proportionate and not so? If you talk to European officials, they’ll tell you privately that that Seattle shooting is the way of the future — that every now and then in Seattle or Sydney, Madrid or Manchester, someone will die because they went to a community center, got on the bus, showed up for work … and a jihadist was there. But they’re confident that they can hold it to what the British security services cynically called, at the height of the Northern Ireland ‘‘Troubles,” ‘‘an acceptable level of violence” — i.e., it will all be kept ‘‘proportionate.” Tough for Pam Waechter’s friends and family, but there won’t be too many of them.
I wonder if they’re right to be that complacent. The duke of Wellington, the great British soldier-politician, was born in Ireland, but, upon being described as an Irishman, remarked that a man could be born in a stable but it didn’t make him a horse. That’s the way many Muslims feel: Just because you’re born in the filthy pigsty of the Western world doesn’t make you a pig. What proportion of Muslims is hot for jihad? Well, it would be grossly insensitive and disproportionate to inquire. So instead we’ll put it down to isolated phenomena like the supposed “bipolar disorder” of Pam Waechter’s killer.
In the struggle between America and global Islam, it’s the geopolitical bipolar disorder that matters. Clearly, from his own statements about “our people,” for Pam Waechter’s killer his Muslim identity ultimately transcended his American one. That’s what connects him to what’s happening in southern Lebanon: a pan-Islamist identity that overrides national citizenship whether in the Pacific Northwest or the Levant. Not for all Muslims, but for enough that things will get mighty “disproportionate” before they’re through.
Twenty-eight dead civilians in a village from which 150 Katyusha rockets have been launched against Israel doesn’t seem “disproportionate” to me. What’s “disproportionate” is the idea that civilian life should be allowed to proceed normally in what is, in fact, a terrorist launching platform.
But, when an army goes to war against a terrorist organization, it’s like watching the Red Sox play Andre Agassi: Each side is being held to its own set of rules. When Hezbollah launches rockets into Israeli residential neighborhoods with the intention of killing random civilians, that’s fine because, after all, they’re terrorists and that’s what terrorists do. But when, in the course of trying to resist the terrorists, Israel unintentionally kills civilians, that’s an appalling act of savagery. Speaking at West Point in 2002, President Bush observed: “Deterrence — the promise of massive retaliation against nations — means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend.” Actually, it’s worse than that. In Hezbollahstan, the deaths of its citizens works to its strategic advantage: Dead Israelis are good news but dead Lebanese are even better, at least on the important battlefield of world opinion. The meta-narrative, as they say, is consistent through the media’s Hez-one-they-made-earlier coverage, and the recent Supreme Court judgment, and EU-U.N. efforts to play “honest broker” between a sovereign state and a genocidal global terror conglomerate: All these things enhance the status of Islamist terror and thus will lead to more of it, and ever more “disproportionately.”
© 2006 Mark Steyn