We Cannot Become Numb to Terrorism

I am guilty too.

Just a few weeks ago, America was shocked by the worst terror attack to hit New York since that tragic day on September 11, 2001.

As was widely reported, a lone individual by the name of Sayfullo Saipov murdered eight people and injured almost a dozen more in the name of Isis as he drove a rented truck down a bicycle path off of the West Side Highway in downtown Manhattan.

As authorities came to realize the severity of what had just occurred, law enforcement suddenly and obviously blocked off all traffic, with sudden precision, at Chambers Street. My car was one of the first affected, and I waited anxiously to be allowed to move. I already was a few minutes late, heading from my office to a meeting with a northern New Jersey Jewish organization to discuss methods of collaborating on combating just such hate in our local communities.

For the moment, it didn’t even occur to me how lucky I was that it took 10 minutes to retrieve my car from the Battery Municipal Parking Garage, because of its malfunctioning exit gate. I didn’t think right away about what could have happened had I gotten out of the garage those few minutes earlier. More importantly, after hearing the changing stories from the radio as new reports kept coming in, in retrospect I realize that I still concentrated far too much on having my assistant report to the appropriate people that I would be somewhat late for the scheduled meeting.

Just a few days ago, I read an editorial piece written by one of my mentors, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, about the dangers of our collective desensitization to mass murder and terror attacks. His piece was written as an immediate response to the machine-gunning of hundreds of Muslims at prayer at an Egyptian mosque last Friday, and it said that although we all naturally condemn such incidents, they have become so frequent that they no longer provoke the necessary moral outrage.

Rabbi Cooper’s piece detailed our need to realize that our lack of a more significant international response is a clear signal of the victory enjoyed by the terrorists and extremists who force such madness into our lives. We must sit back for a moment and register that these acts are all being justified in the name of religion, and that they simply cannot be tolerated regardless of whether the victims are Muslims, Christians, or Jews. Regardless who the victims of specific attack might be, we all are targets in the minds of those creatures, and we should act together to combat them and the very misguided hate that both motivates them and continues to allow them to recruit more adherents on a daily basis.

As I am sure we all do, I distinctly recall exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing when the planes hit the World Trade Center on that infamous day just over 16 years ago. It was primary day in New York, and I had spent the better part of a year working as a candidate’s political director. On that day, I was based in Brooklyn County headquarters on Rogers Avenue in Crown Heights, watching with colleagues on a small black-and-white television set, using a hanger for an antenna, gasping at the horror confronting us, as so many of us raced to contact our loved ones and tried to figure out how we could somehow help. We watched in terror as the wind blew fragments of office documents outside our office, and we felt our emotions go from shock to disbelief to anger as we swore that somehow this would not go unanswered.

As I think about Rabbi Cooper’s column, it bothers me deeply that I did not feel the emotions that I felt on that awful day 16 years ago nearly as severely as when I was racing to that meeting on the West Side Highway, even though families once again were being senselessly ripped apart right, in our own backyard. As I now have the great fortune to work for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is on the front lines fighting against hate and terrorism, I recognize that I was guilty too on that day, a few weeks ago, because I had become just a bit less sensitized to such horrors.

In combating such hate, it is this realization that I hope will serve as an awakening to all of us, and it will lead me to redouble my efforts to make sure that it does not happen again.

About the Author
Michael Cohen currently serves as Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Mr. Cohen additionally serves on the Englewood, NJ City Council where he was recently elected to his third term. Mr. Cohen has previously held senior staff positions on Capitol Hill and in NYC and NYS governments for over 15 years. Mr. Cohen has also served as Director of Political and Strategic Affairs for a top NY lobbying firm.
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