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Opening Our Eyes

‘The quiet of that spring morning blinded him, and he didn’t see those lying in wait for his soul.… Do not bother blaming the murderers. What more can we say about their powerful hatred of us?… Not from the Arabs of Gaza, but from ourselves, we must demand an accounting of his blood. How did we shut our eyes and not look squarely at what awaits us?… Beyond that hill lies a sea of hatred and lust for revenge. Yesterday we once again felt it, heard it, believed it.…”

These words were spoken a half-century ago by Moshe Dayan, then Israel’s military chief of staff, at the funeral of Roy Rothberg, a soldier killed fighting Gaza terrorists. Dayan’s words appeared Wednesday, May 12, in a Yediot Aharonot editorial lamenting the futility of the deaths of the six Israeli soldiers blown apart in Gaza the day before. The words ought to be read aloud each morning as Congress convenes its hearings into the continuing madness in Iraq.

They may well be carved into Nick Berg’s tombstone.

The ghouls who killed Berg, the 26-year-old Philadelphia Jew who has become the latest icon in the war against terrorism, were trying desperately to send a message. This, they meant to say, is what awaits Americans who blunder into our sacred lands, our Dar al-Islam. This is what we did to Daniel Pearl two years ago. This is what we will do over and over until you run away. This is how much we hate you.

Berg went to Iraq to take part in a grand, deluded enterprise of building a new, democratic Iraq. How did we not see what awaited him? What did we not know about this hatred?

Did they kill Berg because he was Jewish? We can’t know for sure. Danny Pearl was forced, before his death, to declare himself Jewish. Nick Berg merely gave his name, stated that he was from Philadelphia and told us, evocatively, that he had a brother and a sister named, respectively, David and Sarah. Did they try to make him say more? Did they think the theatrically staged re-enactment of Pearl’s murder was a clear enough message?

We do know that Berg was, as his friends told the Forward this week, on a religious journey back to Judaism over the past year, and that he had taken to carrying a set of ritual fringes with him. Did he have it with him when the ghouls kidnapped him? We won’t know for sure, unless his killers are captured and forced to talk. It’s not encouraging that Pearl’s killers are still walking around free, two-and- a-half years later (though four accessories were tried and convicted last year). Judging by our current track record, the whole truth about Berg may never be known.

We do know, because the ghouls told us, on tape, that the killing was masterminded — and perhaps carried out personally — by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian terror-master who has emerged in the past year as a key figure in the new, postwar Al Qaeda. As our own Marc Perelman reported March 12, Zarqawi is distinguished by, among other things, his passionate hatred of Jews and his determination to move antisemitism higher on the agenda of Islamic terrorism worldwide. He was a minor player until we entered Iraq. He was able to follow in our wake, finding a foothold in the chaos we have created. Now he is a kingpin.

We also know one more crucial fact: Nick Berg went to Iraq because he wanted to participate in the great adventure of liberating that troubled country, helping it to rebuild and to work its way toward democracy. That was the challenge held out to Americans by President Bush — that is, after he was forced to admit that our original reasons for going into Iraq, namely its weapons of mass destruction and its ties to Al Qaeda, turned out to be lies. Those who still wanted to believe in the rightness of our cause were, like Berg, left to conclude that democratization and reconstruction were a mission worthy of our great nation. And Berg, by all reports a passionate, adventuresome idealist, wanted to join the cause.

And, finally, we know this: that the notion of America democratizing Iraq by force of arms is hopeless. It was a pipedream to begin with, cooked up by a team of naive blusterers with no grasp of the region, put into motion by a blundering administration with an exaggerated notion of its own powers and a horrifying unwillingness to face the costs of its fantasies.

How have we shut our eyes?

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