On September 13, 2001, the front page of the French newspaper Le Monde, one of the most widely read newspapers in that country, read: “Nous sommes tous américains,” (We are all Americans).1 It remains a grateful and moving piece, which I encourage everyone to read or re-read. Despite France’s troubled history with Jews and a sizeable Muslim population, Le Monde took a stand. This was not a populist statement. It was an expression of humanity, steadfast against the inhumanity of the terror visited on an ally nation.
That headline is a reminder of how people and nations, not just governments, supported America with singular moral clarity when it was cowardly attacked. It was a time when even countries critical of America’s foreign policies understood what the barbarity of attacking unsuspecting civilians on such a large scale, without any warning, meant for a civilized world.
Two decades later, Western culture seems to have lost touch with that particular brand of unity and moral clarity in the face of horrible atrocities. Case in point: the barbaric Hamas attacks against Israeli civilians on October 7.
I am clear that the 9/11 attacks in 2001 are not the same as the attack against Israel in 2023. It’s not my intention to argue that they are. No two historical events can be the same, and while there are elements of similarity, the differences are significant. As Jacques Mintz has pointed out, the 1,400-person death toll amounts to a very high proportion of the population for a small country like Israel (And we should not lose track of the 220+ kidnapped individuals). And when compared to countries like the United States, or even Canada, the contrast of the raw numbers is chilling: “Given Israel’s population of 9.8 million, the death of 1,400 Israelis is as if 5,800 Canadians had died or almost 48,000 Americans — compared with the 3,000 killed in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.”
How would Torontonians or Montrealers feel about the incursion of a foreign force murdering nearly 6,000 Canadians with such savagery? How would Vancouverites feel about rockets incessantly raining from above at any given time?
Hamas’ attacks were horrifically blood-lusting. The killers were indiscriminate in their murderous rampage, also killing Arabs and South Asians, for instance. The killings were performed with such icy intimacy, staring into their victims’ eyes with glee, taunting them and insulting them. The personal investment of the attackers is evocative of the blind savagery of ISIS but at a grander scale.
It is equally crucial to keep in mind that the impetus of the attackers was to kill as many Jews as they could because they were Jews. When we focus on that truth, we may begin to have a speck of understanding.
How else do we begin to make sense of the live streaming of some of the killings, and the social media exposure by the terrorists themselves? And the phone call to a parent one terrorist made at the scene, using a victim’s phone, to brag about the savagery he had just committed?
All these are bone-chilling and incomprehensible events for most of us, but the call to a parent demonstrates a particular depravity; it shows a life-snuffing hatred seeking the approval of she who grafted it on the killer’s soul as a child. Even more shockingly repugnant was the parental blessing. As it has been said, this was a present-day pogrom.
No one is surprised to see demonstrations in distant cities such as Damascus and Teheran, in Nablus and Hebron, but how could we have scores of people chanting and celebrating the gruesome deaths of so many innocent lives on the streets of Toronto and Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver?
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