Editorial: Dual Attack, Dual Defense


There’s an inherent dichotomy in responding to terrorist activity. On the one hand, in the wake of an attack that results in senseless death and destruction we must go on with our lives without cowering in the corner. On the other, the seriousness of actual threats cannot be ignored and must be met with vigorous intelligence and reaction. Not only can we serve the dual masters of courageous and vigilance, but we must.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the world bestseller, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” spoke about his newest book, “Conquering Fear,” at a special event of the 2010 St. Louis Jewish Book Festival last week.  Coincidentally, he gave his talk on the eve of the discovery of a major terror plot apparently emanating from Al Qaeda’s operation on the Arabian Peninsula.

Kushner mostly focused on the thematic elements of “Conquering Fear.” The opus, as with most of Kushner’s books, provides us with ways to understand how our faith can help us cope with the painful and overwhelming.  During the question session, he was asked what scares terrorists, and he responded that going on with our everyday lives sends the most powerful message of all, namely, that we will not allow the messages of hate and fear to disable us. In fact, he pointed admirably to the Israelis and British who seem to most forcefully send a societal message that organized violence against civilians will not deter their will to live.

The need for such courageous affirmation, however, must be coupled with vigilance on the security front.  The transport of bombs last week appears to have emanated from Al Qaeda’s Yemeni operation, the base for Anwar al-Awalki, the former Virginia- based cleric who has been one of Al Qaeda’s chief recruiters and has been tied to other similar plots.

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In last week’s attempted attacks, explosive devices hidden in toner tubes for electronic printers that could evade detection by current methods, were sent via Federal Express and UPS, and addressed to Chicago synagogues and Jewish organizations. Authorities in Great Britain and the United States believe that the explosives were intended for detonation while the cargo and passenger planes were in flight, but the packages were addressed to Jewish destinations as a “fallback” alternative.

Karen Aroesty, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League for Missouri and Southern Illinois, told the Jewish Light that the plot was thwarted because “security was in place, and who knows what chaos was averted.”  She added, “But each time a new challenge occurs, the structure gets that much better responsively.”

The failure of the latest deadly plot is indeed a tribute to improved intelligence that uncovered the scheme in process and allowed for interception of all of the deadly packages before they could be detonated either aboard the planes or at the Jewish addresses in Chicago. That there has not been a major successful terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 represents a combination of substantial resource investment and good fortune, but last week’s deadly plot is a reminder of the determination by Al Qaeda and others that emulate their tactics.  And as we have been spared others have not, as Al Qaeda did succeed in launching successful deadly attacks in Madrid, Bali, London and Mumbai, India in which hundreds were killed and scores were wounded, many of them gravely.

The Jewish community feels particular pain when the specific targets are synagogues and other Jewish organizations.  Such tactics are a reminder of the virulent antisemitism that runs rampant amongst these militant organizations. In fact, NBC News last week showed chilling footage of terrorists at a training camp in Yemen run by Al Qaeda practicing on a target shaped like a Star of David.

There’s something seemingly inconsistent in lifting one’s head high while coping with the tragedy of events intended to inflict societal paralysis and loss of hope.  Yet we must embrace this duality, for it is the only way forward in sending the correct message to the pure evil that is Al Qaeda and other like-minded groups.

If we succumb to their tactics, we will become huddled masses giving up the good fight, unable to defend ourselves. And if we do not at the same time use all available resources to protect ourselves, we will be subject to a wider range of psyche-numbing attacks. And all the while, we must remain true to our American support of civil liberties and personal freedoms, lest we look less like ourselves and more like those against whom we defend ourselves.

We embrace Rabbi Kushner’s wise advice, while at the same time praising the hard work of the various intelligence agencies and the vigilance of groups like the ADL, which worked to prevent this latest deadly attempt to cause chaos and bloodshed. This latest attempted act of terror is indeed a “wake-up call” that we must remain vigilant, while at the same time refusing to give the terrorists a victory by cowering in fear.