December 16, 2008
Chopra's DelusionsBy Edward Olshaker
Unlike those who consider Deepak Chopra a New Age charlatan, I admire the work that brought him acclaim and success. This only makes his unintentionally callous comments about India's own 9/11 -- and his earlier libel against Israel -- all the more disturbing.
Chopra presented ancient Hindu wisdom in an easy-to-understand way that many people feel has enriched their lives. Alan Scherr, the 58-year-old Virginia-based meditation teacher who was killed in Mumbai along with his 13-year-old daughter Naomi, also spent most of his life bringing India's spiritual riches to Americans, and he did it brilliantly.
I had already begun writing about Chopra's comments when I learned that the attacks struck close to home with the loss of Alan, whom I met when I was about 7 years old and he was about 10, living on the same street in Baltimore. At that time the guys on the block formed a club, and I remember Alan, one of the older guys, as the leader. All I remember about the club was the one activity I missed, when the guys went to see the horror movie "The Fly" and later had nightmares about it.
Alan went on to teach transcendental meditation, working closely with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He taught photography at Loyola College in Baltimore and art at the University of Maryland. A few years ago, I ordered a meditation tape from Synchronicity Foundation, unaware that Alan was working there. One day I received a call that began, "Hi, Ed, this is a voice from your past..." During that and subsequent conversations, Alan provided wise guidance about meditation. I last saw him and Naomi at the funeral of his father Oscar, where my father was one of the pallbearers.
At the memorial service for Alan and Naomi at Etz Chaim Jewish Center, a tiny Orthodox synagogue where his sister Susan is a member, I saw his brother Marc recall that Alan had been derided as strange and weird, "mostly by me," describe food fights in childhood when the two very different brothers clashed, and say he now sees his brother as "a leader and a visionary." Naomi was remembered as bright, lively, and innocent. She read Twilight and Harry Potter, and wrote to Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, who sent her an autographed picture for her birthday.
Take all this horror and multiply it by the hundreds of Mumbai victims of multiple nationalities, races, and religions. Each day brings new atrocities. On the same Black Friday I learned the news about my old friend, a suicide bomber killed 12 people and wounded 23 at a mosque in Musayyib, Iraq. The world does not seem to have noticed or cared. What kind of mindset does it take to target random civilians in a House of God?
Chopra said on Hannity and Colmes, "...unless we understand the root causes of this, we're going to perpetuate this violence over and over again." Yes, "we're" going to.
Did he forget that US troops fought and died to rescue Muslims in Kuwait, Bosnia, and Somalia, and that a huge portion of the Islamic world already was at war with us before the birth of Israel, and before the birth of George W. Bush? They were already "inflamed -- by enthusiasm to join Hitler's war against us, bonding over a shared excitement over exterminating Jews that, for jihadists, goes back centuries.
Chopra wants to do something, anything, to calm down Islamic terrorist rage. We all do. "Ultimately the [terrorists'] message is always toward Washington," he said. Yet even if the US and Israel were to disappear, there would be no shortage of Islamic extremist rage -- at Buddhist schoolgirls they behead in Thailand; at Christians persecuted for being the wrong religion; at schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia; at blacks they enslave, rape, and kill in genocidal numbers in Sudan; at the Dalai Lama, who is under a death fatwa; at the five fishermen the Mumbai terrorists killed at the start of their mission; at fellow terrorists summarily executed in Palestinian infighting; at their own women who they dispose of in "honor" killings; at their own children who are hanged to death in Iran on suspicion of being gay. It takes no more than a mere cartoon to trigger deadly rage.
Chopra's terror-excuse-seeking comments were not an uncharacteristic lapse, but the continuation of a pattern. Last year, in his article "Peace Through the Back Door," he condemned Israel's self-defense against the Hezbollah attack the previous year as "an exercise in pure arrogance, a devastating assault on a defenseless neighbor, with the pretext being the capture of two Israeli soldiers."
Chopra's astonishing charge that Israel wished to inflict death and destruction, and eagerly seized a "pretext" to do so, joins the list of modern blood libels -- apartheid," "ethnic cleansing," "genocide, etc -- endlessly repeated by the bigoted and the ignorant. This defamation was nothing new; it was just surprising to hear it from the author who wrote, "Learn to observe without judgment." It's as if he temporarily set aside his first-rate brain, replacing it with the groupthink of a tiny, vocal hate-driven wing of the Left.
That simple word "pretext" has turned into a formidable public-relations weapon, used to paint Israel as the aggressor whenever it responds to deadly attacks. Among the prominent figures who echo Chopra is none other than Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who declared, "Their [Israelis'] methods resemble Hitler's. When Hitler wanted to launch an attack, he came up with a pretext."
Even if Chopra felt a need to limit his topic to Lebanon, why did he fail to mention those who were being killed, wounded, and forced to flee their homes by the thousands in Tripoli the same week his column appeared, as Lebanese troops assaulted terrorists in a civilian-filled refugee camp?
What Chopra chose not to say speaks volumes. He referred merely to two kidnappings by Hezbollah, yet "forgot" to mention the eight murders and barrage of rockets that accompanied the kidnappings that same day; the preceding six years of kidnappings, murders, and rocket fire on civilian areas which brought virtually no Israeli response; and the stated goal of Hezbollah chief Nasrallah to kill all Jews. He also omitted that Israel repeatedly warned Lebanese civilians, who the terrorists hid behind, to leave the war zone. By omitting key facts, he painted a benign picture of a genocidal terror gang.
Chopra sees Israel's failure to achieve its goals of defeating Hezbollah and rescuing its soldiers as a positive thing, noting that as a result, "there is little doubt that the future will hold much less aggression, particularly of the unilateral kind" by the Jewish state.
He also warned that Israeli-Palestinian peace is unlikely "since both sides of any protracted conflict always posture belligerently." Shortly before he wrote this, there were calls for genocide of the Jews from Dr. Ahmad Bahar, acting speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council; from Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan in a televised sermon; and from Kan'an Ubayd in the Hamas newspaper Al-Risalah. Was Chopra aware of any Israeli legislators, religious officials, or newspapers that "posture belligerently" in the same way, urging the genocide of all Muslims?
Chopra recently noted, "In order to kill terrorism it's gonna have to be a 50-year Marshall Plan ...To educate them, to help them, to cooperate with them, to create economic partnerships so that the rage disappears, and to understand them..." The Marshall Plan, unfortunately, could not be implemented until Nazi Germany was a pile of rubble. It is impossible to imagine Hitler ceasing the killing if we had offered it in 1940, in a sincere attempt to stop the bloodshed immediately and live in brotherhood. Today as well, all positive initiatives toward those bent on killing and conquest would fall on deaf ears.
For there is an insurmountable cultural divide Chopra has ignored -- and so has the media -- revealed in the recent honors bestowed on Samir Kuntar, a prisoner released by Israel. Kuntar killed an Israeli father in front of his 4-year-old daughter, then bashed the girl's skull repeatedly with a rifle butt until she was dead. On November 24, Syrian television reported that President Bashar Al-Assad awarded Kuntar "the Syrian decoration of the highest degree" for his achievement. The Al Jazeera "news network" threw a birthday party for Kuntar. Last July, syndicated columnist Mona Charen reported:
Kuntar, dressed in fatigues and sporting a Hitlerian mustache and haircut, walked down a red carpet arrayed for him in Beirut. The government closed all offices and declared a national day of celebration. Tens of thousands of Lebanese cheered, waved flags, threw confetti, and set off fireworks as Hezbollah staged a rally to celebrate their "victory" over Israel. Mahmoud Abbas, the "moderate" leader of the Palestinian Authority, sent "blessings to Samir Kuntar's family."
Despite it all, in a striking irony, the nation Chopra singled out for vilification has already tried to implement the "Chopra Plan," responding to terrorist massacres by reaching out in friendship, generosity, and humanitarian concern. Although Iran's terrorist regime, through its Hamas and Hezbollah hit men, has murdered countless Israelis, and killed and wounded hundreds in attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina, the understandable rage and humiliation these attacks must have produced never caused Israel to retaliate in kind. Israel's response came in the form of an offer of humanitarian aid five years ago this month, when Iran suffered a devastating earthquake. Iran turned down Israel's offers of help, thus condemning many of its own people to unnecessary death.
Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael B. Oren reported last year, "Ahmadinejad has reportedly told his Cabinet that the Hidden Imam will reappear in 2009 -- precisely the date when Israel estimates Iran will go nuclear...an Iranian government website declared that the Hidden Imam would defeat his archenemy in a final battle in Jerusalem." The mullahs are pointing a gun at Israel's head, preparing to load it with a nuclear bullet, and declaring endlessly, "Death to Israel," a phrase some people seem to find ambiguous.
All of which, oddly enough, brings us back full-circle to India and its spiritual gifts, specifically the holy Bhagavad Gita, and its compelling advice that seems designed for this time and this crisis. It is set on a battlefield where the archer Arjuna, a sensitive soul who seemingly lacks the stomach to use force, is filled with hesitation and doubt. Lord Krishna, a charioteer, urges him to steel himself for a battle that cannot be avoided.
Today's Arjunas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ("We are tired of fighting and winning.") and President-Elect Barack Obama, appear genuinely dedicated to doing everything possible to achieve peace. However, barring a miracle, the time may come when shooting the nuclear gun out of Iran's hand is the only thing left to do, the right and noble thing to do. The prospect of taking action if diplomacy fails is horribly complex, frightening, fraught with danger and a chance of failure; yet allowing the nightmarish alternative would be infinitely more reckless.
Krishna's advice, which sounds a lot like that of FDR and Churchill, echoes through the millennia. Our leaders will hear the same message when they pray for guidance and heed their own inner voice: Be alert and vigilant. Avoid self-delusion regarding the nature and gravity of the threat. Do not be faint of heart. Fulfill your solemn oath to defend and protect. Do not let them harm one more child.