July 14, 2005
A Textbook Attack
It is impossible for me to look at images of the double-decker bus blown apart in last week's terror attacks in London and not think of Bus No. 37.
Bus No. 37 was the mangled hulk of an Israeli bus that activist brothers Ed and Bernie Massey sent on a tour in November 2003, as part of traveling exhibit on terror.
A Palestinian suicide bomber destroyed the bus in a March 2003 attack in Haifa that killed 17 and injured 53, mostly children.
The exhibit was meant to reach beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to show the danger and carnage of terror. Alongside the bus, screens played footage of terror attacks in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
But the exhibit seemed to offer a not-so-subtle subtext as well: this year in Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or Haifa; next year in your city. If shoes and movies and medicines move quickly through a global marketplace, so do ideologies and terror techniques.
Shortly after the London attacks, the spookily prescient people at debka.com wrote that the explosions, at least in the bus, were no doubt the work of suicide bombers. Investigators at the scene initially discounted that idea. But by Tuesday, reports began to circulate that, indeed, the attacks were the work of suicide bombers.
Then, as if to underscore the point that what began in Israel has spread abroad, a suicide bomber exploded himself in a Netanya mall on Monday, killing two people.
That attacks in Israel have been dress rehearsals for a larger war now seems undeniable. That fact doesn't buttress the arguments of those on the looney left and retrograde right who claim that Israel is to blame for fomenting anti-Western sentiment in the Arab world. These people have always willingly confused the front line with the starting line, blaming Israel's policies for provoking the Arab world into violence.
Most dispassionate terrorism experts see something else at work, other than a desperate and violent flailing out against Israel. And that icon of terror, Osama bin Laden, is the prime example. He doesn't care about the possible Palestinian future, just about the mythical Arab past. His reasons for attacking America on Sept. 11 didn't truly include Israel.
Likewise, those who took responsibility for the London bombings make clear they aren't after a change in policy, but a destruction of societies. The victims of the Haifa Bus No. 37 bombing included Jews, Muslims and Christians, just as the London bombing claimed many Muslim lives. Consider how many Muslims have died in terror attacks in Iraq. The twisted jihadi ideal becomes murderous to all, turning these Muslim youth into the "beasts of prey" that Adolf Hitler boasted he had fashioned the German young into.
The roots of the problem lie not in Israeli or English or American culture, but in the schools and mosques of the Arab world. Muslims face rapid social changes and hardships, but so have other populations -- without justifying senseless and counterproductive violence.
Take Kuwait -- a country Americans died to "liberate" a decade ago.
"The official government institutions -- that is, the elementary, middle and high schools, and even the vocational institutes and the universities -- are spreading religious thought by means of children's books full of lessons about jihad in Islam, and of repeated calls to expel foreigners from the lands of the Arab Gulf countries," wrote Shamlan Yousef Al-'Issa, a political science lecturer at Kuwait University.
These textbooks are all-important: suicide bombers are not middle-aged men. Steve Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (memri.org), said there has been a lot of debate and talk and promises of change, but it has been slow in coming. In a MEMRI-translated report on Kuwaiti textbooks, Kuwaiti womens' rights activist Lulwa al-Mullah wrote, "The terrorist danger facing Kuwait is that the education that created these criminal terrorists is not imported, and that it is plausible that it will create many [more] terrorists."
And Kuwait, mind you, is an ally.
There are some indications that a culture that has bred such violence is beginning to re-assess.
"Since Sept. 11 there has emerged a small but growing group of Arab reformers who are highly critical" of the jihadi and the blame-the-Zionist chorus in Arab media and governments, said Stalinsky.
Following the London attacks, the Arab media still had a number of "It's the Jews fault" stories, but there were also more and more writers critical of the bombings.
"The whole reform movement is fledgling, but growing," Stalinsky said.
But will it happen soon enough?
In Ian McEwan's "Saturday," the main character looks out the window of his London townhouse one evening in 2004. "London," McEwan writes, "his small part of it, lies wide open, impossible to defend, waiting for its bomb, like a hundred other cities."
A year later, McEwan's waiting is over -- he wrote about the real attack in a July 8 New York Times op-ed.
Two years ago, I asked a top local anti-terror expert why there haven't been any suicide bomb attacks at U.S. malls or supermarkets.
His discomfiting reply: "Wait."
That leaves me with a frustrating, foreboding outlook as I wait, hopefully, for the marginalized voices of Arab reform to win out. I can't help but worry that while I wait, our enemies -- not to mention our dubious allies -- are educating a new generation of terrorists, and that the next bus No. 37 is on its way.