Words matter. Words of meaning, words that fail. Words spoken, or left unsaid. Most of all, the words that must be given to us now.
When the holocausts of New York and Washington, DC began, our media strange phrase, our media did what they always do in first moments of catastrophe. Grimly, cleanly, often at personal risk, they took up their task of reporting, and were magnificent. By nightfall, as they always do when the hard news wanes and theres time to be filled, the dreary old patterns emerged. The experts with nothing to say; the holier-than-thou pastoral and political commentaries; the endless replays; the tears.
By nightfall, though, other words mattered: the words our people had not uttered. No crowds chanting Death to Bin Laden, no mobs pouring through the streets, looking for Arabs to kill. That is not our way, not even when we watch them dancing in their streets, oblivious to the quality of devastation that could be visited upon them instantly, were it not for American restraint. As I write this, three days later, well-hyped reports of scattered incidents have started to appear. To quote an old Yiddish (or was it Chinese or Swahili?) proverb: There are more horses behinds in the world than horses.
Then the words of the politicians. At first, theirs were the hollow words of shaken men, drab leftovers of language from a bygone era the far side of 9/11. Cowardly deed . . . brought to justice . . . retaliation. On C-SPAN, you could watch both Houses conducting group therapy. One Congresswoman, name omitted due to respect for the institution, fretted over the abolition of curbside baggage check-in. What will happen to the skycaps?
The American people, in their silence our silence knew better. This was not about law enforcement. Nor was it about retaliation, shooting off enough cruise missiles to feel good about ourselves, then forgetting it all until the next time. This is about war. Within three days, the words of the politicians caught up with the silence of the people, which had by then had yielded to a quiet, relentless fury. And the bills were voted, the money provided, and the great grim work of the destruction of Jihadistan began.
And the alliances the single-issue alliances were formed. We found we had friends, quiet friends, in this matter, ready to do quiet work. Israel, of course. Also Russia, Turkey, China, France, too many others to name. By what right did this alliance begin its work? By an ancient concept of international law, known as universal jurisdiction. Originally intended to deal with crimes such as piracy on the high seas, it holds that some acts put their perpetrators so far beyond civilization and its normal procedures that anyone has the right, indeed the responsibility, to take action.
And then, almost on cue, the opposition began. Their words fell dead from their mouths, especially the dull, robotic, formulaic cries of racism and we-too-are-to-blame and well lose our civil liberties. Some people derive their moral stature from endless criticism of others, especially their own country; others from apologizing for sins they never committed. Others claimed that this war cant be won, their fearful counsels perhaps best summarized: Dont defend yourself against those who kill you. You might make them mad. They invoked the desire for martyrdom, as though that desire may not be granted in many ways.
As for the civil liberties absolutists, a wise Supreme Court justice answered them in 1919. Whatever else it may be, the Constitution is not a suicide pact.
And then there were those who claimed, and will claim, that, by taking up this war in the manner that it must be fought, we lower ourselves to their level. No, we do not. We simply speak to them in the manner theyve chosen to speak to us, in the only language they understand, in order to silence them forever.
One final word. This is also a defining moment for the peoples of Islam. They need a century of peace to begin to take their rightful place in the world. Their leaders wont let them have it. Jihadistan has killed and tortured its own by the millions, and those who go against it now risk terribly. Perhaps if the world alliance against Jihadistan shows that its serious, and capable of success, the peoples of Islam may come to see that they have alternatives.
As an American, a Zionist, a Jew, and a human being, I believe that it must be the duty of the civilized world not just to destroy Jihadistan, but to succor the peoples of Islam. I wish them well.