On the Unity of Terror
By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
July 4, 2016
Islamic terrorism has had a banner
few weeks, with 49 Americans gunned down in Orlando, 45 travelers killed in
Istanbul, 20 diners butchered in Dhaka, and more than 200 Iraqis blown up in
Oh, and some Israeli settlers were
killed, too. But they’re not quite in the same category, right?
In November, after Islamic
State’s massacres in Paris, John
Kerry offered some unscripted thoughts on how the atrocity differed from
others. “There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo,
and I think everybody would feel that,” he said, referring to the January 2015
attack on the satirical French newspaper. He continued:
“There was a sort of
particularized focus [to the Hebdo attack] and perhaps even a legitimacy in
terms of—not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to
somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This
Friday [in Paris] was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one
particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people.”
Mr. Kerry’s remarks again
betrayed the administration’s cluelessness about ISIS, which aims to
annihilate anything it doesn’t consider . . . Islamic. Understanding its
takfiri version of Islam, with its sweeping declarations of apostasy, is
essential to understanding how it thinks and operates.
But no less telling was Mr.
Kerry’s view that not all terrorism is fundamentally alike; that some acts of
terror have a rationale “you could attach yourself to.” The comment is
striking not for being unusual but for being ordinary, another formulation of
the conventional wisdom that terrorism, like war, is politics by other means.
From such a view it’s a short step to treating some acts of terror as
legitimate, or nearly so.
Which brings me to the case of
Hallel Yaffe Ariel, a 13-year-old Israeli girl who on Thursday was stabbed to
death in her sleep by a 19-year-old intruder named Mohammad Tra’ayra. It’s
difficult to imagine any act as evil or as cowardly as murdering a child in her
sleep. But Hallel lived with her family in the West Bank Israeli town of Kiryat
Arba, making her a settler, while Tra’ayra, who was shot dead on the scene,
came from a nearby Palestinian village.
What happened to Hallel has
happened to countless settlers: five members of the Fogel family, butchered in
their beds in 2011; the three teenage boys who were kidnapped and murdered by
Hamas in 2014; the rabbi who was shot and killed on Friday on a West Bank road
while driving with his wife and two children. Yet their deaths are supposed to
be different from those of other terrorism victims, since they were all
“occupiers” whose political crimes rendered them complicit in their own
tragedy. That’s how much of global public opinion has long treated terrorism
when the target is Israel. It has a rationale. It’s understandable, if not
justifiable. It’s Israel’s problem, Israel’s fault, and has no bearing on
the rest of us.
For many years, the Turkish
government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan made common cause with Hamas. Israeli
officials have accused Turkey of hosting a Hamas command center—a key point of
contention in Jerusalem’s efforts to reconcile with Ankara—and Mr. Erdogan
has repeatedly met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, including just days before
last month’s airport attack.
The Turkish people deserve full
sympathy for that atrocity. But no sympathy is owed a Turkish potentate who has
been sympathetic to terrorists as long as they aimed their fire at Israel or
other convenient targets. All the more so since until recently Mr. Erdogan’s
attitude toward Islamic State matched ambivalence with indifference, to put it
What’s true of Turkey goes for
other recent victims of terrorism. Pakistan has long played a double game with
terrorists, supporting groups that hit civilian targets in Afghanistan and
India, only to be shocked when the same groups, or their cousins, turned against
the mother country.
Saudi Arabia’s former interior
minister, the late Prince Nayef, was for years the head of the Saudi Committee
for Supporting the Al Aqsa Intifada, in which capacity he distributed millions
to “the families of martyrs.” As late as November 2002, he blamed 9/11 on a
Zionist plot, only to be disabused of the view once al Qaeda began attacking
Saudi Arabia directly.
Or take Bangladesh. In April,
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the murder of a secularist blogger named
Nazimuddin Samad—part of an assassination campaign in which some 30
secularists have been killed in the past three years—by asking, “If someone
writes filthy things about my religion, why should we tolerate it?” Now her
government seems astonished to learn that ISIS has Bangladesh in its sights.
It’s depressing to think that
the only way the world might understand the truth about terrorism is to have
some experience of it. Still, it’s worth stressing that terrorism is not the
continuation of politics but the negation of it, and that the murder of a
13-year-old “settler” has no more a rationale than what ISIS did in Orlando,
Istanbul and Dhaka. Terrorism can be defeated, but only once that lesson is