On March 1, 1999, a federal district court in Brooklyn sentenced one Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Maizar, late of Hebron, to life imprisonment. His crime: conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, threatening to do so and carrying the device itself. Although Abu Maizar had not actually harmed anyone, when the police raided his apartment in 1997, they found plenty of evidence that the 23-year-old was on the verge of setting off a pipe bomb that day.
Oddly, the verdict attracted almost no attention. This is puzzling. For Abu Maizar's intended crime was, in fact, no isolated phenomenon; nor was it the product of a merely personal derangement. The typewritten letter the police found in his apartment said "we are going to buarn [burn] the ground under the america and Jewish stat[e]" and was signed, "alljeihd [the jihad] for all agssa [ages] movement." At the trial, Abu Maizar informed the court that he wanted to harm this country "because I feel that the United States is supporting the Jewish state and the United States should be punished for supporting Israel." He spoke openly of his hopes to kill "as many [Jews] as I could take....I always dreamed to be a martyr." When the guilty verdict was read in court, he jumped to his feet, held an open copy of the Koran over his head and shouted "Allahu Akbar!" - God is great.
In other words, far from being a solitary crackpot, Abu Maizar represents a large movement - fundamentalist Islam - in whose name Muslims like him are ready to commit heinous acts of violence, and even to give up their own lives, in an effort to "punish" America and, especially, to kill American Jews.
Jews enter the picture, along with British and American "imperialists," as the perceived main obstacle to the fulfillment of a utopian vision - that if only Muslims lived in strict accordance with the sacred law of their faith, the shari'a, they would regain the wealth and strength that was theirs at the height of Islam's glory in the Middle Ages. In the fundamentalist view, Jews everywhere have spared no effort in their drive to dominate the world and especially the Muslim nations. Every perceived enemy of Islam, from Atatürk to Madonna, is the creation of global Jewry. If the threat is ever to be eliminated, a no less ruthless war against the Jews is an urgent necessity, and the duty of every Muslim.
In its obsession with the Jews, fundamentalist Islam confirms its structural resemblance to the other major totalitarian ideologies of our century. In one way, however, it goes beyond its precursors. Nazis and Communists never had the audacity to emigrate in large numbers to America, much less did they hope to find a substantial base of support among Americans. Yet that is precisely what fundamentalist Islam, together with its odd fellow traveler, the Nation of Islam - a native- born amalgam - has done. Muslims who hate America, and especially Jews therein, are growing in numbers and reach, enjoying the protections afforded by the rule of law and the indulgence of a benevolent, pluralist society.
It is fortunate that such Muslims do not represent all Muslims in America. Many leading Muslim organizations, whatever the true state of their feelings, are careful in public to avoid the taint of anti- Semitism. Going further, others have established cooperative links with American Jews (and Christians) on issues of common concern. A few brave souls - most notably W. Deen Mohammed, the leading figure among black converts to mainstream Islam - have in the past also stood up against Muslims who attack Jews.
Both Jewish and Islamic communities profit by such connections. Jews gain allies, Muslims gain stature. For the traditionalist elements in both communities, there is the added attraction of forming a larger front against what is seen as the "chaos of evil" of contemporary American society, to use the words of Robert Crane, a prominent American convert to Islam who wants Muslims to "work with like-minded traditionalists of America's other religions" in order to "complete the American Revolution."
But in truth, these positive attitudes are very much the exception. At huge conventions closed to the press and public, in speeches and publications that tend to be couched in the historic Muslim languages rather than in English, nearly every Muslim organization in America spews forth a blatant and vicious anti-Semitism.
And this is not just words, for there is actual violence against Jews in America, including an attack on the B'nai B'rith building in Washington in 1977, the assassination of Meir Kahane in 1990 and the 1994 shooting of a van carrying Orthodox boys on the Brooklyn Bridge, killing one. Some violence in which non-Jews have been killed (seven at the World Trade Center in 1993 and one atop the Empire State Building in 1997) is motivated at least partially by anti-Jewish sentiments.
In today's world, with exceptions - especially in Russia - anti- Semitism traceable to Christians is almost everywhere relegated to the fringes and is on the decline; it has been cast out of teachings of the established churches and denounced by political leaders. But if trends in Christian society are going in one direction, in Muslim societies around the globe they are going in the opposite direction. There, far from being a fringe phenomenon, ideological and political anti-Semitism is common currency - among heads of state, governing parties, powerful opposition groups, mainstream newspapers and leading intellectuals alike.
In other words, what was historically a Christian phenomenon is now primarily a Muslim phenomenon. If Christian anti-Semitism is increasingly yesterday's problem, Muslim anti-Semitism is today's problem, and tomorrow's.
That takes us back to the nonresponse to Abu Maizar. For in America one would hardly know anything about the depth and reach of Muslim anti-Semitism from following the press or the statements of the organized Jewish community. In "Looking for Farrakhan" (1997), a book on the Nation of Islam leader, Florence Hamlish Levinsohn explains his anti-Semitism exclusively in terms of his Christian background, saying not a word about the Islamic component. The Anti-Defamation League, even while valiantly leading the fight against Mr. Farrakhan's anti- Jewish racism, sedulously avoids mentioning religious context. Worst of all, many American Jewish organizations continue to devote considerable resources and energy to targeting the "Christian Right," while virtually ignoring the rise of Islamic fascism.
But whatever one thinks of the causes favored by the Christian Right - educational vouchers, school prayer - they hardly constitute the most serious threat to the security of American Jews today.
The real and present danger is by no means the pro-Israel Christian Coalition but the rabidly anti-Semitic Muslim Arab Youth Association; not Jerry Falwell but Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman; not those who, at the very worst, wish to convert Jews but those who, with every means at their disposal, intended to do them harm, who have already acted on those violent intentions and who if unchecked will surely do so again.