Istanbul Synagogue Bombing Kills 22

Istanbul Synagogue Bombing Kills 22, wounds 242

My money is on al-Qaeda as the culprits in the two massive car bombs that went off in Istanbul’s Galata district on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, outside two synagogues. Because the street was bustling, many or most of the killed and wounded were apparently Muslims. Istanbul is one of my favorite cities, and I have several dear friends among Turkish Jews, so I have been very upset by this news.

Al-Qaeda has an obsession with Jerusalem being under Israel occupation, as they think of it, which has often misled Westerners into thinking they don’t care about the Palestine issue. They probably don’t care so much about Palestinians’ welfare per se. But they consider Jerusalem to be Islam’s third holiest city, and they consider it under foreign, infidel occupation. (They also consider Mecca and Medina under foreign, American occupation because of the Saudi royal family’s tight alliance with Washington). Al-Qaeda, being a fundamentalist religious movement, focuses on religious symbols, not secular political ones.

In order to signal its outrage over Jerusalem, al-Qaeda has hit Jewish targets repeatedly. The World Trade Center was almost certainly chosen in large part because al-Qaeda believed it was dominated by Jewish capital. Al-Qaeda also hit at a synagogue at Djerba island off Tunisia, killing German tourists, and at Israeli tourists in Mombasa. It specializes in hitting Jews who are soft targets. The only major planning we know of for an al-Qaeda attack on Israel itself was Richard Reid’s dry run on an El Al flight. The El Al security tagged him as suspicious, so he tried his shoe bomb routine on a US carrier instead.

The theme of attacking what they see as invading infidels in Muslim lands also ties into last week’s bombing in Riyadh, which appears especially to have targeted wealthy Lebanese Christian entrepreneurs, though many Muslims were killed or injured, as well.

Of course, when I say al-Qaeda I mean something more shadowy than the word now implies. The old al-Qaeda was defined as the some 5,000 fighters who had pledged fealty to Bin Laden personally. That pledge is no longer possible. The small cells around the world are probably afraid to be in much contact with one another. They may get some marching orders from Sa`d Bin Laden, Osamah’s son, and from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of the militant faction of the Egyptian al-Jihad al-Islami. Al-Qaeda really has just become a McGuffin, a shorthand for “Sunni radical terrorists.”

One also has to wonder if al-Qaeda is attempting to unseat the moderate “Muslim Democrat” sort of government now in power in Turkey. Al-Qaeda likes to sharpen contradictions, and would be much happier with a fight between secularist extremists in the army and fundamentalist extremists in the street.

I’d like to see the Saudi royal family get out in front on this issue by forcefully condemning the Istanbul attacks, and by linking them to the Riyadh one, and by coming out against the anti-Jewish bigotry that has become so widespread in the Muslim world. Arabs are always saying they are against Zionism, not against Jews. Well, Turkey’s 25,000 remaining Jews are in Turkey because they did not want to be ingathered. The front page of the Saudi daily al-Watan covers the Istanbul bombing. It then quotes President Bush at the end of the article condemning it. But this is a Saudi paper. What are Saudi high officials saying? They are not quoted to my knowledge. The bottom link on the first page is to the campaign by US Zionist organizations to discredit Saudi Arabia and to attempt to link the royal family to terrorism. Well, what better way to change that image than by video of a forceful condemnation by Crown Prince Abdullah of this attack on Jews? Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal has recently said that the Saudi authorities have cracked down on preachers making anti-Jewish comments, since Islam respects the right of Jews to practice their religion. That is a start, but it isn’t enough. And, it isn’t visible in the West.

Al-Qaeda cannot be defeated until this ugly dispute between the Arabs and the Israelis is resolved. Ariel Sharon’s iron fist and settlement expansion isn’t helping. A viable Palestinian state that had offices in Old Jerusalem and could fly a flag there and have authority over the Mosque of Omar, would pull the rug out from under al-Qaeda recruiters on the Jerusalem issue. But neither is behind-the-scenes bigotry against ordinary Jews in the Middle East helpful in resolving the problems. Riyadh and Istanbul should demonstrate that mainstream Jews and Muslims are in this fight against terrorism together.

[N.B. Pakistan denounced the Istanbul bombings as “dastardly” according to wire reports on Sunday.]

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