It was often said after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that everything had changed. And for a few years afterwards, indeed it had. After decades of denial, America and its allies went on the offensive against Islamic terrorism, both militarily and morally. Most importantly, there was no hesitancy to name the enemy or to condemn his inhumanity.
But if the lack of outrage over the Islamic terrorist assault on Mumbai, India last month was any indication, everything has changed back.
The obfuscation that characterized much of the early reporting on Mumbai is partially to blame. Watching a number of television reporters go through visible pains not to use the word "terrorist" to describe a four-day reign of terror that would eventually kill more than 170 people and injure hundreds was a surreal spectacle. Initial articles described "militants," "gunmen," and "extremists," but rarely terrorists, and rarer still, Islamic terrorists. So-called experts prattled on vaguely about the perpetrators' motivations, as if the ideology fueling a group called the Deccan Mujahedeen was a complete and utter mystery. ("Deccan" refers to a historic Islamic claim on the Deccan Plateau, the territory which stretches between Mumbai and Hyderabad, while "mujahedeen" are Muslim fighters engaged in jihad.) Links to the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba added further confirmation and yet still, many of the talking heads remained stubbornly ambiguous. Indeed, the attack was largely presented as if it were occurring in a vacuum.
Perhaps they were taking a cue from last year's Departments of State and Homeland Security internal memorandum forbidding employees from using Islam-specific terminology to discuss Islamic terrorism or the British politicians who earlier this year adopted the phrase "anti-Islamic activity" to describe it. In any case, Orwell would have been proud.
When it was learned that the terrorists had attacked a Chabad center in Mumbai, the only specific target other than hotels and restaurants catering to Western tourists and wealthy Indians, the coverage become stranger still. No context was provided for the torture and murder of the Chabad Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife, Rivka, and four other Jews, although it was obvious why they were targeted. The Holtzberg's surviving toddler son, Moshe, who was rescued by his Indian nanny, was certainly not the first Jewish child orphaned by Islamic terrorism. No connection was made to the virulent anti-Semitism fueling jihadist ideology. Nor to the Nazi-like propaganda promulgated throughout the Muslim world and fed to children so that they too will grow up to hate Jews, whether Israeli or not.
Similarly unexamined were the implications of the terrorists' barbarism. Witnesses described victims being lined up and shot execution-style and terrorists spraying bullets indiscriminately into crowds of men, women and children. Some survived by feigning death for hours under the weight of countless dead bodies. If not for the heroism of the hotel and restaurant staff, as well as others who rose to the occasion, more lives would have been lost. But lacking analysis, these horrific details were soon forgotten. Is it any wonder that the world no longer grasps the utter depravity and cruelty of the formidable opponent it's facing?
This is the same enemy who held hostage and slaughtered Russian children in Beslan; who lobs rockets at schools, uses women and children as human shields, preys upon the weakest in their own societies - women and children -- to mold them into suicide bombers, targets mosques and plans attacks on Muslim holidays, murders school teachers and aid workers, commits beheadings, hangings, stonings and honor killings, puts children and pregnant women into car bombs so they can more easily pass through checkpoints, indiscriminately targets civilians the world over, and who seeks to squelch all human achievement and progress.
Should not this grave threat to human rights be called what it is? Should not the world rally against this cancer within its midst and spare no expense or effort to stop it from metastasizing? Should not human rights groups make defeating this ideology its chief priority? Should not women's groups make the oppression of Muslim women, both within and without the Muslim world, its first priority? Should not gay rights groups turn their attention to the hangings of young men across the Muslim world? Should not Jewish groups condemn the hateful, anti-Semitic propaganda that is brainwashing Muslim youth? Should not those who believe in religious freedom denounce the persecution of religious minorities, apostates, and atheists in the Muslim world? Should not those who advocate free speech condemn the campaign to silence journalists and activists in the Muslim world, as well as attempts to do the same in the West? Should not the international community do everything in its power to prevent fanatical Islamist regimes from acquiring nuclear weapons and wreaking unprecedented havoc on the planet?
The answer to these questions would seem to be self-evident, but sadly, the world continues to waffle. Just as in the past when aggression and brutality were met with indifference or appeasement, today we are at risk of falling into the same trap. The old habit of believing one can mollify one's enemies by understanding his alleged grievances, avoiding offense, and indulging in self-blame is back in full force. Those who argue for forthright terminology and decisive action are demonized and bullied, while those who peddle in pacification and platitudes are glorified. Without leadership and moral clarity, we have become numb to the horrors at hand. Meanwhile, the enemies of civilization gain strength from our lack of fortitude.
There are those trying to call attention to the threat of radical Islam, but increasingly they are voices in the wilderness. Either that or they persecuted under the aegis of "Islamophobia." Defying this characterization, Muslim and Arab reformers are forthright about the conflict raging within Islam and the religious nature of the ideology fueling the jihadists. An inspiring show of opposition came from Mumbai's Muslims, who refused to bury the dead terrorists and who marched against their hate and violence. While such demonstrations are few and far between in the Muslim world, they should be broadly recognized and supported when they do occur.
Similarly, reformers in the West such as M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Ali Alyami, executive director of the Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, and former Dutch parliamentarian and women's rights advocate Ayaan Hirsi Ali, should be supported as modern-day dissidents. But instead, they are hardly household names and in some cases face castigation, even as they risk their lives to tell the truth. Perhaps the problem is the world is not ready to hear the truth.
Until there is a united will to defeat this modern-day fascism, this threat to human rights, this abject evil, it will continue to thrive and to leave atrocities in its wake. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves for letting it happen.