Words Do Matter

You may have read it here first, but the NY Times’ nonsensical, even demented speculation that the Mumbai Chabad house might have been “an accidental hostage scene” has cascaded through the hands of many media critics. Mark Steyn, in particular, so precisely echoed my own sentiments on the matter that I could almost wonder if he’s now reading Cross-Currents:

Hmm. Greater Bombay forms one of the world’s five biggest cities. It has a population of nearly 20 million. But only one Jewish center, located in a building that gives no external clue as to the bounty waiting therein. An “accidental hostage scene” that one of the “practitioners” just happened to stumble upon? “I must be the luckiest jihadist in town. What are the odds?”

Those critics found many additional examples scattered throughout the international media of what Andrew McCarthy calls Willful Blindness, “the refusal among academics and political leaders to confront fundamentalist Islamic tenets, the 800-pound gorilla that is somehow always in the middle of the room when terror strikes.” Caroline Glick goes a step further, calling it “The jihadist-multicultural alliance.” [Thanks to Scott Johnson of Power Line for these sources.]

Again and again, the media bent over backwards to avoid labeling the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre “Islamic” “terrorists,” to avoid identifying their preferred victims as “Jews,” and to avoid placing the blame where it belonged: upon the murderers and their Islamic clerics, rather than their innocent victims. Tom Gross provided a litany of examples in the National Review:

Why are so many prominent Western media reluctant to call the perpetrators terrorists? Why did Jon Snow, one of Britain’s most respected TV journalists, use the word practitioners when referring to the Mumbai terrorists? Was he perhaps confusing them with doctors? Why did Reuters describe the motivation of the terrorists, which it preferred to call gunmen, as unknown?… Why did Britain’s highly regarded Channel 4 News state that the militants showed a wanton disregard for race or creed when exactly the opposite was true?

What are we to think when even such a renowned publication as the Times of London feels the need to refer to terrorists as “militants”, rather than calling them by their right name? “Militant”, after all, can be a neutral term in many contexts, and a favorable one in others. What is the motivation of journalists in trying to mangle language? Do they somehow wish to express sympathy for these murderers, or perhaps make their crimes seem almost acceptable? How are we going to effectively confront terrorists when we can’t even identify them as such?…

For most of the Mumbai siege, the BBC went out of its way to avoid reporting that the Jewish community center was one of the seven targets. At one point viewers were told that “an office building” had been targeted (referring to the Jewish center as such).

Has the New York Times learned anything since the Holocaust when, even after the war ended in the spring of 1945, the paper infamously refused to report that the Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Germans and so on killed in the camps had been Jews, and killed as Jews?

Dozens of eyewitness accounts by local Indians said the gunmen shouted “Allah Akbar” from the Jewish center. It is housed in a non-descript block and is not obviously marked from the outside as a Jewish center. It is the one Jewish building in a densely crowded city of millions. And the Times, the self-proclaimed paper of record, wants to let readers think it might have been “an accidental target”?

Gross’ last example should remind us that the NY Times was no better during the war itself, when its ability to reach the American people could have made a difference. Instead, the NY Times and other media deliberately failed to report the extent of the Nazi Holocaust, in a conspiracy of silence that abetted the Holocaust. Public outcry might otherwise have ensured that the train routes to the death camps were actually bombed, something FDR (who was held in the highest esteem by the then-dominant Reform Jewish leaders in the US) could not manage to do, although bombs were dropped on other targets five miles away.

The Times was not satisfied to speculate about the attack on Mumbai’s Chabad house while the battle was ongoing, and one could attempt to say that it was simply reporting the fact that “it is not known” if it was “an accidental target” in much the same way that it could not have been proven at the time that the attackers were not from Finland. No, the Times repeated this same line a day later, in its article announcing the death of Rabbi and Mrs. Holtzberg, when Indian doctors were already on record decrying the barbaric torture specifically visited upon the Jewish victims before they were murdered. Whether it was “willful blindness,” “the jihadist-multicultural alliance,” or plain old anti-Semitism, what it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, was unbiased reporting or an innocent slip.

The Times called the Chabad house an “unlikely” target, whether or not it was chosen or accidental. Words matter, and the distortion of language can and will affect our ability to confront evil. If we don’t call them terrorists, we’re not going to fight them as terrorists. If we don’t recognize that Jewish targets are anything but coincidental, we will fail to understand why “disproportionate” protection is warranted.

It’s wonderful to talk about being race-blind, but the Secret Service isn’t quite so blind (or foolish) as to fail to acknowledge that the President-elect they call “Renegade” is being targeted by a really nasty cadre of people who would be all too happy to ignite a race war in this country. Similarly, it is blind and/or suicidal to ignore the affiliation of these terrorists with radical Islam, and blind and/or anti-Semitic to ignore the likelihood that Jewish institutions will be their targets.

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9 Responses

  1. mb says:

    Not to detract from anything you have said, but there are at least 8 other synagogues in Bombay. For some reason this has barely been mentioned.

  2. Charlie Hall says:

    #1 mb,

    I was frustrated enough by the lack of coverage that I actually sent emails to some other frum internet sites to complain why they had not mentioned anything about the other nine synagogues, or the three Jewish schools, or the rest of the Jewish community of several thousand people in Mumbai (a community that has been in that part of India for two millenia). I’m glad that they were not attacked, but I never heard anything about them from the Jewish internet or other Jewish media sources until after the terrorist attacks were over.

    (And how could Mark Steyn write that there is only one Jewish center in Mumbai? Do the Indian Jews not count as members of Am Yisrael?)

  3. Ori says:

    Charlie Hall: (And how could Mark Steyn write that there is only one Jewish center in Mumbai? Do the Indian Jews not count as members of Am Yisrael?)

    Ori: Count for whom? For us, of course they are Jews. But it’s possible that from an ignorant gentile’s perspective they don’t really count, since they are further away from the stereotype.

    I hope that this is the view of Pakistani jihadists. In that case, they might not attack Indian Jews.

  4. YM says:

    I think that Mark Steyn was not using the phrase “Jewish center” to mean synagogue; I believe that the Chabad facility was comprehensive in a way that the other shul’s in Mumbai are not.

  5. mb says:

    Some of the Jews in Bombay have been there for over 2 millenia, and racially resemble the indiginous population and others are expatriate Iraquis, settling hundreds of years ago.
    Again not wishing to detract from the horror at the Chabad House, the Chabad publicity machine has added to the myth that this was the only Jewish resource in Bombay, and the media have ignorantly bought into it.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    Excellent column-The NY Times has a long, sorry and infamous record when it comes to issues such as its analysis of the Holocaust, maintaining common cause and swapping raw materials with such anti Zionists as Judah Magnes and imposing standards in its editorial page and news coverage on Israel that exist for no other country. This week’s Newsweek mentions that the WS Journal is retooling itself to surpass the NY Times as the paper of record. If the WSJ had a sports page, I would seriously consider switching to it.

  7. Sam says:

    It’s great to know that there are other synagogues in Mumbai, and that one of us would seriously consider switching from the NY Times to the Wall Street Journal if they would have a sports page.

    The deadly issue, however, is that the NY Times deliberately, day after day, sought to portray the attack by virulent anti-Semitic terrorists on innocent Jews at a visible Jewish symbol–the Chabad House, located in a national landmark called the Nariman House–as anything but deliberate. Even after evidence emerged that the Jews were tortured and not merely killed, including a visibly pregnant woman, this information was not passed along to the readers of the paper that claims to present all the news that’s fit to print.

    Let us not get sidetracked, and let us realize that the views and opinions of millions of important people are shaped by how the Times covers stories. [That was true during WWII, and it is true in the Israeli-Arab conflict.] There is a good reason why the NY Times has not published the letters of those of us who caught this immediately and wrote in right away, and did not even address this issue in its Corrections section. There is method to their madness.

    But, instead of focusing on the real danger such media represents, and how to counter such media bias, we can always return to the fact that there are other synagogues in Mumbai, and if only the WSJ had a sports page 🙂

  8. Pauli Ojala says:


    Statistics of the beneficial impact of Jewish population to the host country in terms of inventions, science and technology:

  1. December 15, 2008

    […] attack on the Chabad of Mumbai, one both different and more subtle than obfuscation of the terrorists’ identity as Islamic radicals and their Jewish victims as deliberate targets. What exercised the Jewish Week is that the news […]

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