Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fort Hood and the November Nexus

What caused last week's tragic murders at Fort Hood may never be fully known, whether the crazed acts of a single gunman was inspired by his own psychological insanity or the madness of a virulent form of radical Islam; whether it was predetermined or spontaneous, and whether he acted on his own or as part of some vast jihadic conspiracy. The answer to all these questions lies most likely in some grey area, although ideologues and apologists are already staking out their ground on both poles of this muddled spectrum.

While it is best for the rest of us not to get bogged down in these speculations, we can find common ground in commemorating two events that always come one day apart, yet rarely are so intertwined as they are post Fort Hood. Kristallnacht recalls the events of November 9 and 10, 1938 that, in the words of the Nazis themselves, set in motion the chain of decisions that ultimately led to the destruction of European Jewry. Madness went unchecked that night and the result was cataclysmic. It was the shot heard round the world, to which the world refused to respond with anything but a few words.

Kristallnacht was commemorated on Monday in Berlin. Here's how it was marked there:

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov and ex-Polish president Lech Walesa celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, more subdued tributes were held to mark the 71st anniversary of the nazis' Kristallnacht pogrom.

On Kristallnacht - the Night of Broken Glass - at least 99 German Jews were killed, 267 synagogues destroyed and thousands of Jewish businesses vandalised and looted.

Up to 30,000 German Jews were arrested and placed in concentration camps.

The pogrom marked an intensification of the nazis' fascist policies that would eventually lead to the murder of some six million Jews.

In Berlin a special service was held at a memorial outside the Jewish Community of Berlin's building.

The event also paid tribute to Anne Frank, who would have turned 80 this year had she not died of typhus in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.

Separately a candlelit service was held in the evening at Berlin's Grunewald train station, from which many of the city's Jews were deported.

The anniversary was also noted at services celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was known as the "anti-fascist protective rampart" in the former German Democratic Republic.

At an ecumenical service in Berlin Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said: "The memory of the horrible events of November 9 1938 no less than the memory of the November 9 1989 teach us unequivocally that walls, whether real or in the minds and hearts of the people, solve no problems."

On the 11th, we commemorate Veterans Day, once-upon-a-time called Armistice Day, in the good old days when a single military triumph war was to mark the end of all wars.

These days no one is so naive as to think that any military victory is really "mission accomplished." Now we just consider those small wins to signal, "disaster averted." The Gaza and Iraq wars are two of the most recent examples. No one is foolish enough to think the war is over.

But the battles must still be won, each one. In the face of extremism, not even one skirmish can be lost without sacrificing more ground to the madness. The act of a single insane person in Texas was also one of those battles. Even if he had no orders from some jihadist commander above him, he felt he had orders from On High.

There will be no quick victory. Our soldiers and leaders will constantly be put to the test. Kristallnacht reminds us that a tepid response to madness will only yield more - and worse -madness.

It is in that light that the Iranian nuclear threat must be taken. A nuclear Iran would only embolden those forces in the Middle East and elsewhere and weaken considerably the possibilities for reasoned diplomacy to prevail anywhere. Inaction now will be measured ultimately by more American soldiers and civilians everywhere succumbing to extremists' bullets, and it won't matter a hoot whether those personifications of madness are inspired by their own psychosis or orders from some mountain hideaway in Pakistan.

Listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech yesterday in Washington at the GA here and read the transcript for Natan Sharansky's words here. The video for all the plenary sessions can be found here.

Sharansky said, "We must remind ourselves that the Iron curtain was brought down and hundreds of millions found their freedom only because we found the source of strength in our pride and in our identity. We must remind ourselves that we succeeded in building the democratic State of Israel and bringing the ideas of human rights and equality to the darkest places populated by tyrants and dictators only because we were empowered by thousands of years of dreams and prayers of Next year in Jerusalem."

As if no other proof was needed about the nature of this struggle, see this short video of Israel going through the weapons cache it seized on that Iranian ship that was intercepted.

(And then look at
this video, showing the spectacular Israel pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo.)

We can end on a hopeful note - this essay from the Boston Globe by the renowned scholar of religions Harvey Cox, "Why Fundamentalism will Fail."

However, the truth is that for all its apparent strength, the fundamentalist sun is setting on all horizons. Throughout the Muslim world growing numbers of people are becoming impatient with violent groups that, in the name of Allah, seem capable of killing but incapable of producing jobs, food, or health care. Observers on the ground report that popular support for the jihadist wing of the Taliban is falling off as it fails to address the real life problems that afflict people in Afghanistan. (The other parts of the Taliban are inspired less by fundamentalism than by tribal loyalties and a traditional aversion to foreigners.) Al Qaeda faces a similar dismal prospect. Dr. Audrey Kurth Cronin, a professor at the National War College in Washington and author of a new book, “How Terrorism Ends,” says, “I think Al Qaeda is in the process of imploding. That is not necessarily the end. But the trends are in a good direction.” In Iran, the fact that the clerics have resorted to beating and imprisoning their critics reveals the shakiness of their hold.

This year, Veterans Day and Kristallnacht are one and the same. The war to end all senseless killing of innocents is still being fought. The broken glass of a fateful night in 1938 and the broken hearts in Texas this week - all are shattered symbols of the same long fight.

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