The end of terrorism chic?

I was standing in a lengthy airport security line when CNN ‘s Airport Channel broadcast the news of Yasser Arafat’s death in Paris. And I wondered how many of my fellow-passengers — who, simply to board an airplane, were being subjected to inconveniences and indignities they couldn’t have imagined twenty years ago — connected the dots. For whatever else he did or didn’t accomplish in his life, Yasser Arafat certainly changed the way the world travels.

For the worse.

It’s hard to observe the classic maxim, De mortuis nil nisi bonum (Speak nothing but good of the dead), in marking the death of Arafat, because the commentator might well be reduced to silence. Arafat was the first of the Arab world’s celebrity terrorists, the man who ostentatiously wore a holster to the rostrum of the U.N. General Assembly – a Che Guevara who swapped the beret for the checkered kafiyeh. Nothing he did seemed to diminish his celebrity: not the airplane hijackings; not the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics; not the murder of American diplomats in Sudan a year later; not the murder of some two dozen children at an Israeli school in Maalot a year after that.

Yasser Arafat remained a celebrity after his minions threw a wheelchair-bound American, Leon Klinghoffer, over the side of a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro. He remained a celebrity when he called the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat a “traitor” for making peace with Israel, and when he publicly applauded Sadat’s murder. He remained a celebrity after inventing the suicide bomber and paying families tens of thousands of dollars if their children strapped explosives to themselves and became “martyrs.”  He even remained a celebrity when, at Camp David in 2000, he refused the most generous peace settlement any Palestinian leader is likely to receive – and then launched the bloody second intifadah, to distract attention from his own responsibility for the failure of the Oslo accords.

There were some things at which he was skilled. He was a world-class kleptomaniac, who pocketed hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars intended for the economic development and humanitarian relief of his beleaguered people. He ran a comprehensive welfare agency but as a personal fiefdom, binding the poor and the suffering to him and his Fatah movement by cash payments for medicines, scholarships, and so forth. He was very good at poisoning the minds, hearts, and souls of the young, approving textbooks that taught them to add by computing the number of “dead Zionists” killed by “freedom fighters.” In all of this, Yasser Arafat embodied the tragedy once succinctly described to me on a moonlit Jerusalem night by the former (and very dovish) Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

In the wake of Arafat’s demise, speculation was rife as to whether his death created a new opening for Middle East peace. We must hope and pray that that’s the case. But Arafat’s short- and medium-term impact is likely to be found among the seething teenagers and young adults of the Palestinian Authority, to whom he taught the “nobility” of blowing the legs off grandmothers and shredding infants through nail-bombs and other crude terror weapons. Will these maddened young people soon forget the lessons taught them by the wicked man they had been told since childhood was the agent of their liberation? Perhaps only if a Palestinian leader emerges who has the courage to say that celebrity terrorists are just as bad as garden-variety terrorists, and that a law-governed state capable of making peace cannot be built on a foundation of rage, hate, and murderous violence.

Progress toward Middle East peace must also address the Christian exodus from the Holy Land. Arafat’s Palestinian Authority was not Christian-friendly. Religious animus and economic pressure have created a situation in which the Christian holy places risk being reduced to religious theme parks, devoid of living Christian communities. One sign that we’re moving past Arafat and terrorist chic will be when religious freedom becomes a living reality in an emerging Palestinian state.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”