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How much do Muslims hate Israel?
This is not a rhetorical question; its answer will determine whether peace between Jews and Palestinians is even theoretically possible
Remember Sept. 11?
I sure do. I apologize to those of you who’ve heard this story before, but I flew that morning, a 90-minute hop from North Carolina, where I’d been researching an article for the Times, to Newark. The flight was smooth and landed early and I was riding my motorcycle back to Manhattan on the New Jersey Turnpike when I noticed drivers pulling over.
What happened, I asked one. A plane hit the World Trade Center, he said. I looked up and saw the truth myself: in the distance, the twin towers were on fire, matches a quarter-mile high, sending huge plumes of smoke into the brilliant blue sky.
That fast the West was at war with Islam.
Only it wasn’t.
In the 22 years since Sept. 11, Western nations have faced a grand total of two major Muslim terror attacks - in London in 2005 and Paris in 2015. Even those, though gory, relied on only a handful of attackers.
The lack of Islamist terror has not resulted from the West begging for peace, either. Over the same two decades, the United States occupied two Muslim countries and used lethal force in many others.
(mRNAs one day, 9/11 the next. Where else you gonna get that? Nowhere, I tell ya. Nowhere!)
Obviously, one reason for the relative peace is that the American ability to track communications networks helped us kill or capture jihadists around the globe, making it difficult for Islamist groups to stage complex plots.
But that isn’t the only reason, or even the main reason (ask Israel about the dangers of relying too heavily on technological superiority against a motivated enemy).
The main reason is that after a short flirtation, Muslims worldwide largely turned away from Osama bin Laden’s call for global jihad.
This rejection did not result from prescient American policy.
The American invasion of Iraq, always legally dubious, went south within months of Saddam Hussein’s ouster (I know, I was there). The violent insurgency that followed cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and paved the way for a radical Islamist takeover of large swaths of Iraq and Syria which took a decade to undo.
(Remember the Green Zone? And the boot-wearing bureaucrats of the Coalition Provisional Authority? We tried to warn them. They didn’t listen.)
Our invasion of Afghanistan, while far more justifiable, lasted at least a decade too long. Along the way, it turned into the nation-building project that the Bush Administration had rejected at the outset. (For 200 years, the Pashtun in southern Afghanistan have just wanted the world to leave them alone. Maybe it’s time to stop arguing with them.)
But despite the best efforts of the world’s most cutthroat jihadis, from Osama bin Laden to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the American misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan did not stir the dar al-Islam to war with the dar al-harb.
That’s why this week’s flirtation from the usual progressive suspects with bin Laden’s letter justifying the Sept. 11 attacks is the definition of irony. Bin Laden claimed to speak for the ummah, the Muslim community, but the ummah never agreed.
So too with the Islamic State, aka ISIS, al Qaeda’s even crueler successor.
In 2015, as the Islamic State reached the peak of its power and controlled vast swaths of Syria and Iran, most Muslims supported the American-led effort to destroy it. 77 percent of Jordanians and more than half of Palestinians agreed the United States should take military action against ISIS, according to a Pew Research poll in December 2015.
Another poll one month earlier showed just how much Muslims worldwide hated the Islamic State:
In every way (except for its use of video and the Internet to broadcast its atrocities), the Islamic State profoundly rejected modern and Western life.
But its vision did not resonate with Muslims. They profoundly rejected the Islamic State, opening the way for the American-led campaign to destroy it. The Turks and Kurds do not agree on much - to say the least - but they both recognized that the Islamic State could not be allowed to survive.
Though it controls less territory, Hamas is more polished and better-armed than the Islamic State ever was. Its leaders live in splendor in Qatar rather than in squalor in the desert.
Still, the deliberate atrocities of Oct. 7, planned by Hamas’s military commanders and cheered by its political leaders, mark Hamas as the Islamic State’s true successor. The two groups have in common the use of terror for propaganda, a profound indifference to civilian life, and a reliance on the Quran’s bloodiest verses as a foundational text.
But they differ in their enemies.
The Islamic State intended a modern caliphate on Muslim lands and thus spent most of its time killing other Muslims. Hamas - for now and the foreseeable future - is focused on destroying Israel, from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea and back again.
Hamas’s project has far more support among Muslims and Arabs. A large survey of Arab nations last year found overwhelming support for the Palestinian cause and opposition to the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel.
How overwhelming? 84 percent of respondents said their countries should not establish relations with Israel; only 8 percent thought they should.
(Whole lotta red)
As I wrote earlier this week, the overwhelming rhetorical support for the Palestinian cause has not yet translated into action among either Muslim countries or their leaders - perhaps in part because Hamas overreached in its brutality on Oct. 7 and conjured memories of the Islamic State’s cruelties.
But the real question is whether in the next months and years Muslims will view Oct. 7, unlike Sept. 11, as a call to arms. Israel can defeat Hamas.
Beating back the fury of the entire Muslim world is another matter.