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by George Jonas


A park near Toronto's university district is named after the poet George Faludy. The author of My Happy Days In Hell passed away in 2006 at 96, having survived terrorists and tyrants in various parts of the world. When asked about the nature of totalitarian terror, Faludy used to tell the following anecdote.

In the late 1940s, after the communist takeover of Eastern Europe, bitter bickering erupted between the Soviet leader, JV. Stalin and the Yugoslav leader, J.B. Tito. The conflict gave Stalin another excuse for purging rivals and opponents, real or imagined. When a university student vanished in a Soviet satellite country, no one was surprised to see a faculty member charged with his murder.

The teacher was branded a "Titoist" agent, put through a show trial and executed. Few believed he was guilty, but people weren't really jolted until, a few weeks later, the "murder victim" showed up to attend classes as before.

Novices to totalitarianism were flabbergasted. Why would the authorities let the "murdered" student go back to the same university? It would have been so easy to enroll him elsewhere, or enlist him in the army, lock him up, exile him, anything. Having framed a political opponent for a non-existent homicide, an authoritarian, semi-fascist regime would have done just that.

But this was totalitarianism, coercion without cosmetics. Blatancy was the whole point, as sophisticated people understood. The message of Stalinism was: "We can do anything."

Of course, totalitarian terror like Stalin's (or Mao's or Hitler's) wasn't the same as "asymmetric" or national-liberation terror, the so-called "poor man's nuclear bomb," such as al-Qaeda and cousins, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. A friend asked Faludy once how terror worked.

"All too well," he replied, "unfortunately."

"Don't give me sarcasm," his friend said. "I know terror works all too well, but what's the clockwork inside? Is it just a matter of scaring people badly enough?"

Faludy replied that for terror to work scaring people was necessary but not sufficient. Even all-powerful, naked, totalitarian terror required more than fear to function. For the asymmetric terror of the weak, such as Islamism, fear served as kindling to ignite an illusion of sympathy.

No one likes to think of himself as a coward. People resist admitting that they're afraid. Simply scaring them might even get their backs up. People prefer to think they end up yielding to what the terrorists demand, not because it's safer or more convenient, but because it's the right thing.

Asymmetric terrorists hit the jackpot when they manage to convince their targets that they haven't been swayed by fear of injury or inconvenience, but by a desire for equity. Once he has frightened his victim enough to do his bidding, what clinches the terrorist's triumph is saving his victim's self-esteem. Terror is victorious when it persuades the terror-stricken that they're acting out of an abundance of goodwill rather than abundance of caution. "Who, me worried about being blown up? Don't be daft. I simply believe that Iran has as much right to nuclear technology as France. Or Israel."

Terrorism's great achievement isn't hijacking jetliners, but hijacking the debate. Occupying office buildings is but a step towards occupying the moral high ground. Successful terrorism persuades the terrorized that if they do terror's bidding, it's not because they're terrified but because they're socially concerned. Once adapted and internalized by its targets, asymmetric terror can be as powerful as totalitarian terror.

Ultimately, asymmetric terror triumphs when it allows perpetrators to masquerade as victims. It's the intolerant demanding tolerance that bedevils Western civil liberties and anti-defamatory organizations from diverse Holland to multicultural Canada. Venerable institutions that stood up boldly against an anti-Semitism that didn't dare speak its name have been thrown for a loop by an anti-Semitism that shouts its name from the rooftops.

Let guilt-ridden, camouflaged, Waspish or pure laine anti-Semitism betray its presence by a feeble sound, it will likely be pulverized, even today, by fearless B'nai Brith or Canadian Jewish Congress types; maybe even the real or the "human rights" police. But when robust, self-righteous, grievance-fuelled, boisterous anti-Semitism browbeats, disrupts and intimidates — as it has, from universities to trade unions to book stores — there's a good chance the same anti-defamatory organizations will look the other way. As for the Jewish targets of a new, in-your-face, mid-Eastern-style anti-Semitism, they'll be lucky if Canada's "human rights" commissars don't turn on them.

A popular saying goes: "Grab 'em by the short hairs, and their hearts and minds will follow." It seems to be the story of Islamist terror and the United Nations, possibly the European Union, the International Criminal Court, maybe even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. One can only hope it isn't going to be the story of the White House. If it is — Houston, we have a problem.

The last time I saw Faludy was in 2002. The place was Budapest; the topic, anti-Semitism. "This isn't my father's anti-Semitism," a 20-some-year-old student was saying to him.

"Yes, it's more like your grandfather's," Faludy replied. "That's what worries me."

Ths article appeared November 21, 2009 on Full Comment column of the National Post (Canada)
( 2009/11/21/george-jonas-the-bomb-is-just-the-beginning.aspx).


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