Askmoses-A Jews Resource
How can someone be a 'good Jew'?
Browse our archives

The Scholar is ready to answer your question. Click the button below to chat now.

Scholar Online:

Type in your question here:

Click the button below to either CHAT LIVE with an AskMoses Scholar now - or - leave a message if no Scholar is currently online.


Terrorism: "Ism"s That Aren't

by Rabbi Manis Friedman


Library » Philosophy » Religion | Subscribe | What is RSS?


In this past few years, words have become very important. In truth, words are all we’ve ever had. But in light of the reactions and responses to what today is known simply as “9/11”, finding the right words has proven to be quite a challenge.

On that horrible morning we heard words like “criminals” and “madman”. Toward the end of the day, the attitude and language began to shift. The word “evil” was being used. That was a positive change.

The good news is that there is a moral nerve, a moral sensitivity that Americans are revealing that is real and strong.

On most subjects Americans are morally confused. However, when we see something that is clearly evil, America has no tolerance for it. By the same token, when we see something that is clearly good, America honors it. So when the word “evil” was introduced into the discussions of 9/11, that showed that we had moved toward something good—moral clarity.

That’s one word that was important to add.

There are other words that are important to delete. One example is the word “terrorism”.

If our response is to be a moral one, if we are to become better people, if something positive is to come of all this, then we mustn’t categorize it as terrorism. It’s the wrong word. There is no one in the world that teaches his or her children to believe in terrorism. In fact, there really is no such thing. There is communism. There is socialism. There are beliefs, religions, political systems, and philosophies. These are the “isms.” Terror is nothing more than a tool used to enforce them. This point was illustrated by the kinds of people and nations that joined the “Coalition against terror.” Even Arafat was “fighting terror.”

The truth is that this has been a catastrophe in the waiting for the past 2,000 years. We have acquired too many “isms”. And many people with many “isms” will inevitably cause a war. The bigger the numbers, the bigger the war.

We all heard interviews with representatives of Moslem groups. We heard them condemn what happened. But when asked, “Are the people who did this going to Heaven or Hell?” They couldn’t answer.

As long as we are labeling what happened as “terrorism,” anyone can condemn—even those who agreed with the perpetrators.

There is another word that needs to go—“Fanatics”. And by the same token, “extremist”. Both very useless words. If your cause is just, if you are on the right side, what is wrong with being an extremist? Is there really too much of a good thing? Have you had too much of a good thing lately?

If something is good, how does more make it bad? More should be better. Do we spoil our children with too much love? (Sometimes we use the phrase “too much love” when we mean “not enough discipline.” Actually, inadequate discipline is usually a sign of not enough love.) How about too much money? A lot of money is only bad if that’s all you have.

So why are we condemning fanaticism? That which is wrong in big scale is wrong in the small scale. It may not be as detrimental but it is equally wrong. We need to get to the root of the problem, to the moral issue that separates the good from the bad.

Since World War II we have not been faced with such a monumental issue of morality on which the world was divided. Just as President Bush said, “You are either with us or with them. There are two sides to this issue. And G-d is not neutral on the subject.” So let’s not talk about “terrorism”—there is no such ism. Let’s not condemn “fanatics” and “extremists”, that serves only to distract us from the heart of the matter. Rather, let’s talk about the root, the subtle beginnings of this evil.


Please email me when new comments are posted (you must be  logged in).
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.