I write about the things that matter to me. All opinions are my own.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Brand Under Which We Fight


This is the United States of America, the greatest country in the world, the country that stands for freedom.

  • You can be born in this country or immigrate here and you are still equally American.
  • Blonde, blue-eyed does receive no technical favor.
  • Your gender may be male, female, a combination or a voluntary migration from one to the other.
  • Your political views are tolerated even if the main agenda item on your platform is how to build a better taco.
  • You can pray standing up, sitting down or never.
  • You can wear unusual clothes and stand up and sing the National Anthem in a football stadium.
  • You are free to live wherever you want, among whoever you want.

This is the greatest country in the world - the greatest civil society ever known. The grandest vision of humanity living side-by-side in total difference, yet not forcing homogeneity.

Other countries hold different distinctions. Israel is the Holy Land, at least to me; other countries may be more socially conscious, more innovative, more educated. But we stand for something: We pursue freedom.

In this country, we debate ideas and we speak the truth, our truth. We promote free speech, a competition in the marketplace of words: We don't put people in jail, or execute them, because they've made an insensitive joke.

We stay out of other people's business, unless those other people are infringing on someone's rights as they are defined by the laws of the country.

And we acknowledge that the law is not black and white but subject to interpretation. An evolving interpretation, because the law is not set in stone, either.

We are a democracy.

It is true, we have committed terrible sins on the way to becoming the envy of other civil societies, and unfortunately we still do. We don't live in a museum or an ivory tower; every day is a moment in a struggle over right and wrong and how we define ourselves.

But this is the greatest country in the world, anyway, and it is the brand under which we fight radical Islamic terrorists.

We should name them.

If there were a gang of radical Jewish terrorists blowing up magazines for publishing cartoons of Moses on the mountain, we would most definitely say who they were, and how they were justifying their attacks religiously.

If Catholic extremists were to bomb an abortion clinic we would most certainly name them.

It would go without saying that these individuals were perverting the essence of the faith to establish a deviant version of the religion. But this would still not negate their use of a particular set of religious principles to do so.

In any war it is important to establish what the sides are.

If you are fighting in a war, you will not win unless you believe that your side is right.

Make no mistake about it, we are deeply entrenched in a war, a war between two completely opposing ideologies of the world. Two visions of civil society, not of societies based specifically on religion.

The radical Islamic terrorist vision - as expressed in cults like Isis, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood -  is that you eliminate all who refuse to bow down before the most extreme interpretation of the Koran. And while it may be true that most Muslims are not terrorists - any more than Jews or Catholics - many, many people within Islam support very, very extremist views. Or 800,00 of them would call in sick the day they held a rally in Chechnya to support the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

The American vision is that everyone gets a seat at the dinner table. That women are free. That all the colors of the rainbow and the cultures in the world and all the ideas and ideologies and all the religious squabbling - all of it can take place right here, and we shake hands and go home and come back another day to be a Nation again.

My doctor is a Hungarian immigrant and she complains that the male paramedics ought to show her more respect when they come with an ambulance to pick up the patient whose pulse has dropped. But they don't, because she is a woman. I say go sister and right on. I tell her she should be in the doctor's hall of fame, she is such a good doctor. (She is.) And she says, they won't put me there, I'm a woman and an immigrant, but let me tell you something, more women should be on that list.

I look at my doctor and think to myself, in the Old Country, we'd be sitting in the kitchen or the back of the synagogue barely able to read. And we come here and we can both get doctoral degrees and get professional jobs and participate in the rousing debates that are part of civil society.

This civil society, the greatest civil society in the world, the greatest experiment in diversity and inclusion, this belief in competing with each other but taking care, too. This mutual journey toward freedom.

This is what we are fighting for.

I can tell that the President deeply believes in empowering the disadvantaged, in leveling the playing field so that all willing people can compete, in making sure that rich people can't take advantage of the poor.

I agree with  him.

Also, I can tell that he believes in more than tolerance for other nations, other worldviews. He believes in a deep respect. He does not think the U.S. is somehow superior to other countries, other cultures, and other political systems, even those based on theocracy. He finds it morally repugnant to assert that you are better than anybody else.

Yes.

The President believes the U.S. has a debt to pay for the way we've thrown our weight around and trampled on native cultures.

Check, check and check.

Here's the problem though: Too much of a good thing. For whatever reason - because there will always be things we don't know and don't understand - the President has taken respect for other cultures to an extreme.

It's sort of like being a self-hating Jew. You can tell who they are because they say things like, "You can be anti-Israel but not anti-Semitic. Let me explain that to you." Or, "The Torah is barbaric." Or, "Jews can be the biggest jerks." Such people make exaggerated statements because they, themselves have a fundamental problem with the fact that they possess a Jewish identity. There is something about the religion itself, and their connection to it, that is deeply embarrassing.

That is the kind of feeling I sense in the President. I think he is a moral person who wants what is best for America. But I also sense his deep embarrassment at our past and current moral failings - the same way Jews are legitimately ashamed when they believe that Israel, or a fellow Jew, has besmirched their reputation by behaving immorally.

It is a painful truth of life that we all get forced to confront the things that are most painful. For this President, who is deeply respectful of and connected to Islam, the dilemma is that he must face radical elements within the faith - who use the faith, who can point to chapter and verse to justify their beliefs and behaviors - who seek to "punish" the U.S. so badly that they would eliminate our Nation altogether.

And they'd take Israel down along with it, probably first if they had their 'druthers. Because Israel is a gigantic, gigantic thorn in their side, with its insistence that you can preserve a religious homeland while also providing citizenship and freedom for all.

The clock is ticking on us all. Radical Islamic terrorists are sitting around and thinking about one thing, just one thing, day and night. Their brand is very sharp and clear and focused and they find it relevant and they fight for it, loudly and softly, explicitly and implicitly, with weapons of war and weapons of words, every minute of every second of the day.

Here is what happens when you ignore, deny, delay and appease terrorists.

You find out, four decades after you were born, what the great-aunts and uncles you never met looked like, because they were carted off to concentration camp and only one survivor had the resourcefulness to send their pictures to the historical society to preserve their memories.


Here is one of them, my great-aunt (RIP) Vicky Mandel, who died in 1944 in Auschwitz.

Do you think I really like sitting around writing these kinds of articles? I want to go back to writing brand research, to sifting out the equity in Coca-Cola versus Red Bull.

Nobody likes a war. We want to think about relationships, career, how to make a better smoothie, debate over whether the iPhone 6 is too big.

But we don't have the luxury of ignoring what is happening "out there." The war is on, and it's coming closer and closer to us every day.

Now, more than ever, we need the President to come down on the side of America's brand. To make a decision that the kind of freedom we have is worth fighting for, tooth and nail. That we must get into the dirt and fight these people, even if some of the things they say are true and even if we as a Nation have not been perfect. It's true, we have been far from perfect.

This is the greatest country in the world, not because of the things we've done but because of the ideals we stand for as a civil society. It is a country that allows me to write open letters to the President without sending the secret police to my door to arrest me.

The United States, at all times, needs the President. We need him to believe that our cause is just and true.

Freedom is the brand under which we fight.

Mr. President, please lead us in this war, with passion. 

Only you, only you can do this.  [1/25/2015 update: Removed this sentence in recognition of G-d's omnipotence; He is the Most Holy on High. I apologize for this wording.]

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All opinions my own.