Last week, in a Manhattan courtroom, a woman dubbed “Lady Al Qaida” was convicted of shooting at Americans in Afghanistan. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist, was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 and found carrying poisonous chemicals, bomb-making instructions, and a list of New York landmarks. Found guilty of attempted murder and other crimes, Siddiqui declared, “This is a verdict coming from Israel, not America. That’s where the anger belongs.”
Two things can be said about Siddiqui’s bizarre linkage. The first is about the frightening role Israel plays in the twisted imaginations of Islamist extremists. Critics of Israel like to charge that Israel exaggerates the threats it faces in order to justify its military responses. Siddiqui’s outburst suggests that Israelis are hardly being paranoid when they worry about a streak of Islamist thought that places Israel in the center of its gun sights.
The Islamists’ Israel obsession, however, does not validate the view that, were the United States only to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace, it would go a long way toward easing tensions between the West and the Islamic world. An Israeli-Palestinian peace is a worthy goal in its own right. But Israel’s critics and assorted “realists” are fooling themselves if they think fanatics like Siddiqui are fighting for a Palestinian state. As Leon Wieseltier wrote trenchantly in The New Republic this week, Islamists “do not want to take the Israel-Palestine question off the table, they want to take Israel off the map…. If the two-state solution were to come into being, the jihadists would consider their job half-done.”
Jihadism is a religious and political movement that demonizes the secular values and religious freedoms represented by the West. Israel, as the embodiment of these values in the Muslim’s perceived heartland, is a focus of Islamist anger, but not its root cause. Israelis and Palestinians should pursue peace because of their common humanity, but not to appease inhuman players like Aafia Siddiqui.