Last week was Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, the brainchild of David Horowitz, conservative political gadfly and self-effacing founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Friends of mine and other writers I admire spoke on college campuses around the country, garnering impressive media coverage. The week was a big success, if measured by how much awareness of Islamic villainy was heightened.
A lot of people, not including me, feel that there can hardly be such a thing as too much awareness. Estimations of the Islamic threat run exceedingly high, not least in my own party. On this point I find myself uneasily agreeing with liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney warns that radical Muslims would “unite the world under a single jihadist Caliphate. To do that they must collapse freedom-loving nations. Like us.” He makes it sound like any moment Islamic theocracy could be extended across the land — an echo of the equally hysterical liberal charge that any minute a Christian theocracy will descend upon us all.
When Rudy Giuliani addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition in October, he spoke of almost nothing but countering the Islamic threat. Obviously, he figured that’s what Jews want to hear.
There is, however, a Jewish case to be made that we would all benefit from less Islamo-Fascism Awareness. To see what I mean, you need to clear your mind briefly of sensational media headlines. Let’s go back to basics.
Judaism prompts us to consider whether life has transcendent, objective meaning, as opposed to the subjective kind that you invent out of your imagination. By definition, that meaning has to be supplied by a source outside our material, human world. As for the identity of the source, I know of only one plausible candidate — the God who revealed the truth about existence through the medium of the Torah.
If you contentedly see life as meaningless, then searching for truth in religious tradition will hold no appeal. In that case, all the great political and social questions might as well be adjudicated the same way animals in perilous circumstances decide on the right course of action, typically by the instinct to save their own skin. Such responses are generated by fear.
When threatened, animals growl or bark. Their fur stands on end. In the neighborhood where our family lives, the cat community is keenly aware of the raccoon threat and at night can be heard hissing and moaning at the raccoono-fascists.
With humans, the fear dynamic is more complicated, partly because humans can take a weird pleasure in feeling threatened. Some Islamo-Fascist Awareness activists find a sort of catnip in terrifying tales of Muslim-related horror.
During Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week, a Jewish friend asked me with breathless excitement, “Did you see on Little Green Footballs [a blog] how the thugs at Berkeley attacked Nonie Darwish and had to be pulled off her?” He was referring to the Egyptian-born Muslim-turned-Christian writer, who spoke at the University of California. Her memoir calls the “Islamo-Fascists” worse than the Nazis or communists.
In fact, my friend had misread an ambiguous headline on LGF. The nutty Berkeley left-wingers didn’t attack her. They interrupted her speech with slogans and rude behavior and were ejected from the auditorium.
I recall a wildly overheated article on, of all things, the Web site of Aish HaTorah, the Orthodox outreach group. The author cited as authoritative an implausible tale he heard on wacky right-wing radio host Michael Savage’s program that 20 Al Qaeda suitcase nukes were already in the United States, ready to be detonated any minute. That was a couple of years ago.
Like me, you are probably bombarded by e-mail lists from well-meaning but hyperventilating Jewish activists bursting to provide information about the wicked lies and terrible deeds of the Iranians, the Palestinians, the Syrians and the rest. There is a whole galaxy of popular Web sites and book authors devoted to banging away at this theme with harsh, braying words and images.
The theme is always fear.
Fortunately, if we prefer to think of life as having meaning, the Torah proposes a different way, a transcendent truth about life: We are meant to fear no one nor to take pleasure from fear.
From the Exodus on, the Israelites faced many enemies. God told them over and over not to be afraid. Forget about the bad guys. Concentrate on getting your own people’s moral condition in order. Our enemies can only harm us when we reject God’s laws, as the Israelites did in the wilderness.
In the book of Numbers, we read about how the Jews panicked at the thought of entering the land of Canaan and encountering its fierce natives. They decided they would rather go back to Egypt. This demonstrated their lack of faith and gratitude, a grave sin.
Soon after, they sought to engage the hostile Amalekites and Canaanites in war. Moses warned, “Why do you transgress the word of the Lord? It will not succeed. Do not ascend, for the Lord is not in your midst! And do not be smitten before your enemies. For the Amalekite and the Canaanite are there before you, and you will fall by the sword, because you have turned away from the Lord, and the Lord will not be with you.”
On the other hand, if the Jews obeyed and maintained faith, they had nothing to fear. This is the theme of my favorite psalm, Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?”
The Bible wastes no time obsessing about the evils of enemy nations. Rather than be distracted by phantom menaces, it devotes itself single-mindedly to calling us to look inward, always inward. Applied to a Bible-believing country like America, that would mean attending first of all to a corrupt culture right here at home. Applied to the Jewish community, it would mean less attention to Iran and more attention to the pervasive soullessness of Jewish culture, here and in Israel.
Fortunately there is always our ancient tradition to take refuge in, a resource counseling us always to keep our hearts directed to the timeless rather than to the ephemeral, with fear of no man, not even Ahmadinejad.