Israeli reaction to last weekend's horrific suicide-bomber attacks in Tel Aviv and Haifa was, as usual, swift and predictable but in one sense unprecedented. Unlike so many aerial reprisals in the past, Israeli jets this time struck not at refugee camps, the perceived breeding grounds of terrorism, but at the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority itself and at the headquarters of that government's leader, Yasser Arafat.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon minced no words in explaining his government's bellicose response to this latest round of outrages. "Arafat is responsible for everything that is happening here."
While the validity of Sharon's assertion is clearly a matter of debate, the American media, infused as it is now with patriotic, antiterrorist fervor, apparently don't think so. Suddenly, Yasser Arafat is a Middle East bogeyman every bit as despicable as Osama bin Laden. Indeed, Bill Day's cartoon on the editorial page of Tuesday's Commercial Appeal -- labeling Bin Laden and Arafat as identical-twin terrorists -- shows how willingly the mainstream media have accepted Sharon's assessment of the situation.
No matter that the equation of Bin Laden and Arafat is patently absurd. No matter that the former is an international thug who openly advocates terrorist attacks against all who oppose his Islamic fundamentalist views, while the latter is the head of a legally recognized state who has spoken out clearly and unequivocally against recent terrorist outrages. No, Arafat gets tarred with the same brush.Why?
Clearly, there is frustration all around. When innocent blood continues to be shed, the urge to lash out at someone -- anyone -- is almost irresistible. But we question the American media's willingness to join in the Arafat witch-hunt. Is it even in Israel's best interests to turn the Palestinian conflict into a personal vendetta against a man who, whatever his past actions, has been the closest thing in recent times among his people to a voice for moderation? Do the Israelis truly believe that Palestine without Arafat would be any less volatile, any less problematic?
These are all considerations the Israeli people need to weigh carefully, for their own sake as well as the world's. In the meantime, we Americans would do well to resist our usual instinct to oversimplify complex situations. We need to study history not ignore it. Having labored long and hard to skillfully create a structure of support among moderate Arab states for our legitimate antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, we need to think twice before supporting actions which may destroy it.
Had we not misplaced our Lewis Carroll volumes, we could probably cite the perfect literary parallel to the surreal pilgrimage made last week to the new Memphis-Shelby County Library by three local government officials. One thing we know we don't have on our hands is any sort of seasonal reprise involving the theme of three wise visitors bearing gifts.
The officials -- city councilman Brent Taylor and county commissioners Marilyn Loeffel and Tommy Hart -- came to the site bearing more than their fair share of misunderstandings and in the process embarrassed themselves and the community.
What they took exception to was the artwork near the entrance to the building which features historical quotes and images. One such (adjacent to Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat) is Karl Marx's phrase, "Workers of the world, unite!"
Our three protectors made it seem that the phrase was part of a dangerous commie plot. Never mind that Marx was no Lenin, that the offending phrase anticipates Solidarity not the gulags, and that the spectre of international communism no longer exists.
Taylor, Loeffel, and Hart could have gone inside and looked it all up -- and, while they were at it, read up on the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights.