The end of terrorism chic?

George Weigel

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: Lebanese priest: ‘We need your prayers’ after Beirut explosions

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A Lebanese Catholic priest has asked believers around the world to pray for the people of his country, after two explosions in Beirut injured hundreds of people and are reported to have left at least 10 people dead.

“We ask your nation to carry Lebanon in its hearts at this difficult stage and we place great trust in you and in your prayers, and that the Lord will protect Lebanon from evil through your prayers,” Fr. Miled el-Skayyem of the Chapel of St. John Paul II in Keserwan, Lebanon, said in a statement to EWTN News Aug. 4.

“We are currently going through a difficult phase in Lebanon, as you can see on TV and on the news,” the priest added.

Raymond Nader, a Maronite Catholic living in Lebanon, echoed the priest’s call.

“I just ask for prayers now from everyone around the world. We badly need prayers,” Nader told CNA Tuesday.

Explosions in the port area of Lebanon’s capital overturned cars, shattered windows, set fires, and damaged buildings across Beirut, a city of more than 350,000, with a metro area of more than 2 million people.

“It was a huge disaster over here and the whole city was almost ruined because of this explosion and they’re saying it’s kind of a combination of elements that made this explosion,” Antoine Tannous, a Lebanese journalist, told CNA Tuesday.

Officials have not yet determined the cause of the explosions, but investigators believe they may have started with a fire in a warehouse that stored explosive materials. Lebanon’s security service warned against speculations of terrorism before investigators could assess the situation.

According to Lebanon’s state-run media, hundreds of injured people have flooded hospital emergency rooms in the city.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has declared that Wednesday will be a national day of mourning. The country is almost evenly divided between Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and Chrsitians, most of whom are Maronite Catholics. Lebanon also has a small Jewish population, as well as Druze and other religious communities.

Featured image: A picture shows the scene of an explosion near the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. – Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)