Why Terrorism Exists, OR Why do they Hate Us? A Lesson in Pshat versus Drash

It’s about time I addressed this question head on. (Apply directly to the forehead!)

This all began last night when some guy responded to my post quoting Mohammad Zarif, FM of Iran, as saying that he was not interested in bombing Israel. In response, he brought up some guy I’ve never heard of, I think it was “Hitler” or some such name, and said that I would have defended him, too.

He then accused me of having sympathies with ISIS. Now, I haven’t seen brainwashed McCarthyism so blatantly expressed by human drones in response to something I’ve written. Nevertheless, I don’t “unfriend” people because I think it’s childish, no matter what they call me. The only exception is if I or my family is physically threatened, which has never happened.

But anyway, before this guy started saying I’m part of ISIS for quoting an Iranian who doesn’t want to bomb Israel, another friend of mine, let’s call him “Dave” asked a very good question. Why, in my opinion, did the September 11th attacks happen, and why are there suicide bombers? It’s not a very common question because most people assume they already know the answer. But most people are wrong, even and especially about this very basic question.

Before I answer, I once knew a guy at Brandeis named Bert Cohen. I thought he was nuts. This was around 2003 at the beginning of the Iraq War. I was a full blown neocon back then, rooting on the American bombing of Iraq. Bert was absolutely against, and he would go around campus wearing a baseball cap with a bunch of antiwar pins in it, every day, all the time. One pin I remember was “Don’t bomb my Muslim friends!” He was a doofusy guy in general and people just saw him as the campus idiot.

I interviewed him once for the Brandeis Justice newspaper about his antiwar views. I remember going through a list of wars with him and asking if any of them were justified. He kept saying no, for the same reasons that I now agree with. It’s all a racket to expand the power and ego of a few politicians that use their subjects – and their “enemies” – as human fodder. That’s really about it.

Then we got down to World War II and he said that that was “close to a justified war” but not totally. I remember being stunned at what I thought was pure insanity.  Now I try to go back to that moment and I try to think why was I so stunned? Why did his words sound so insane to me? Why, now, do they sound so correct, absolutely right, and self-explanatory?

Yes, some of you who read this think I’ve lost my mind. I get that. I can’t prove that I haven’t because one human mind judges another, and there are never any third parties. Even if God came down and told me I wasn’t crazy I would still be interpreting that through my mind anyway.

Let me digress a little bit more before dealing with the core question. I think the answer as to why I thought Bert was so crazy back then, and the reason that McCarthy types say I have ISIS sympathies now, has to do not with logic, or anything cerebral in the conscious area of the brain. It has to do with something much more reptilian than that. If you’re on the other side of the fence with foreign policy (meaning not the libertarian one), then when someone like me says something like Muslims are not the problem and it’s the US that’s the problem, some form of reptilian disgust goes off like “I’m so sick of these people, how can they THINK this?” Then the cerebral conscious brain protects whatever is deeper inside and tries to “explain”, logically, why these disgusting positions are absolutely wrong, and people like me are going to cause the “collapse of Western Society”.

What I’m saying is the thought process is first emotional disgust and revilement, followed by logical explanations that seek to soothe the emotions. Not the other way around. I can say this with confidence because I used to be these people, and from what I see, this is how they still act.

So why did I change? I can only guess, because one can only psychoanalyze oneself so far. Here’s my guess. On the night I discovered Ron Paul, I was looking up partial birth abortions, or late term abortions or whatever you want to call them. I was just curious about what all the argument was about. So I looked it up, and I ended up on Ronpaul.com, on this page. At that page was this paragraph:

Many people feel very strongly about the issue of abortion, and once they make up their minds they rarely change their opinion. If you are undecided and/or open-minded, check out this page and this site for more information about abortion, including images and a description of medical procedures.

So I clicked on those links.

There were these diagrams, not pictures, just diagrams, of doctors inserting giant syringes inside a baby’s head while the body was literally outside the birth canal (hence partial birth), and sucking the baby’s brains out while the body was squirming.

Just looking at the diagram, I almost threw up. I think it hit the same region of my reptilian brain that went off every time I saw Bert Cohen and reviled in disgust about this crazy Muslim sympathizers and America-haters. Before I could open my mind to Ron Paul’s view of the world, my reptilian brain had to prepped, so to speak. It was prepped.

Then I clicked back, read what Ron Paul had to say about it. Then I looked up what Ron Paul thought of Israel, and found this post. With this paragraph:

If Israel believes that Iran might one day become a nuclear power and that such a development would be against her interests, Ron Paul would not stop Israel from doing whatever she deemed necessary to defend herself. Israeli assassination squads are already operating within Iran, and several Iranian nuclear scientists found themselves torn apart by mysterious explosions over the past few years. Ron Paul did not interfere. In fact, he would not even prevent Israel from initiating a devastating nuclear attack on Iran.

And that was it. I was converted.

What happened then was that I became open, on principle, to anything Ron had to say. Not that I agreed with everything and still don’t, but I became open to it. So when he said something about foreign policy, namely that Iran should be left alone and America should stop inciting wars, I no longer had that reptilian “HOW CAN HE SAY THAT??” visceral emotional response. I didn’t agree with it at first because I thought Iran was a threat (and still do, which is why I support Israel getting rid of its nuclear program) but I listened. And allowed it sit in my brain and cook, without kicking it out with some programmed feeling of deep-seated disgust.

The source of that visceral emotional response is from decades of propaganda, pledging allegiance, listening to my father’s sermons every week about how wonderful America is, hearing all my Rabbis say that it’s a “Medinah Shel Hessed”, whatever it was, it was something everyone agreed on. America is great, everything it does is awesome, it is the hope for the world, the beacon of freedom.

Now that I didn’t shove it out, I had time to let it sit. And I let it sit. And I began to question all my underlying assumptions about this great thing, “America”. Once I allowed the questions to sit there, it was only a matter of time before I had to come to the conclusion, based on the raw facts, that America is responsible for millions of deaths. Ron spoke facts about military bases and military budgets and invasion of defenseless countries and all of it was true. It’s not like neocons try to say that America doesn’t have the most foreign military bases in the world. They admit it, and try to justify it like it promotes freedom.

But I couldn’t stomach the “promote freedom” stuff anymore, when it was so obvious by the facts who is the occupier and who is the occupied. America is the Empire. They have conquered the world. Their bases are everywhere, they bomb everything, especially Muslims. Even if you’re a neocon you cannot deny that. They just do. Justify it however you want.

Why do they hate us?

Now, the question, why do they hate us? We have all been trained to believe that they hate us because they are Muslim extremists who want Sharia law everywhere and want the 13th Imam (whatever that is) to return and everyone to worship Mohammad. That’s why there’s terrorism, because of Islam. And Islam hates freedom.

But stop for a second and ask yourself, does that make any sense? It repeats what you have been taught about the goodness of America, but does it make any sense?

The problem is, if you are on the neocon side and you question for a second whether or not it actually does make sense, then you’ll hit that reptilian center of disgust again and you’ll have to shut off the questioning and just accept it. So let’s try a different approach.

Pshat versus Drash

Among religious Jewish circles, there’s a serious problem of confusing Pshat and Drash. Pshat is the simple explanation, and Drash is more of an exegetical, fancy explanation, to define it loosely. From grade school, frum Jewish kids begin to blur the distinction between Pshat and Drash, very early on, and are not taught the essential difference between the two. First graders at Mesivta or Beis Yakov come out thinking that Drash is Pshat and are never taught the difference. To put it simply, Drash is based on Pshat. Without Pshat, there is no Drash. Period.

There is always a source in Pshat for the Drash. You can’t have Drash without Pshat. Got it? Here are a few examples.

The Drash, or Midrash, is often used to resolve a contradiction in the text. For example, during the Song of the Sea (אז ישיר) in one verse it says that the Egyptians floated like straw in the Red Sea. In another it says they sank like lead. Now, the pshat is that it’s a song, a poem, and the poet wanted to use different words in the song, just like when you write a poem you generally use different expressions. The drash is that the relatively righteous Egyptians sank like lead. The really bad ones floated like straw and took longer to die.

Now, the song doesn’t say that the bad ones floated and the good ones sank. That’s just the drash. It says they floated and it also says they sank. The drash comes in to resolve the contradiction – did they float or did they sink? They can’t do both. But without the words “straw” and “lead” the Rabbis would have zero basis to say that the good ones sank and the bad ones floated. Midrash is never woven from whole cloth. There is always a source for it in the text.

Here’s another example. When Pharaoh’s daughter sees a basket floating in the Nile, she sends her servant to get it. The verse says ותשלח את אמתה, she sent her servant, or her “amah”. Now the pshat is that she sent someone else to get it, her servant. The Midrash, however, reinterprets the word “amah” which can also mean “limb” to say that her arm magically grew very long so she could reach out by miracle and get the basket.

So what happened? Did she send her servant or did her arm magically extend farther than humanly possible? The answer is, for the love of God, that she sent her servant. The Drash adds a miraculous flavor to the whole event saying that it was meant to be, very important, watched over by God, therefore it was as if her arm magically extended. But she sent her servant, OK? SHE SENT HER SERVANT. Her arm did not actually grow, OK? Got it? Why is this so damn important?!


Because when you try to answer the question of why do they hate us, why did 9/11 happen, why are there suicide bombers, there is a pshat and there is a drash.

And you must never confuse the two. Without the pshat, there is no drash, remember that.

Now, the pshat, the simple reason, the simple explanation, why did 9/11 happen, is that America is all over the freaking world bombing everything and occupying almost every Muslim country supporting ruthless dictators that oppress their poor people. The reason people hate you is that you do bad things to them. The pshat is that everyone is the same. All human beings. They don’t want to be hurt by bullies. Nobody does.

Now, how do the Muslim leaders get people to fight for them? They use the drash, that religious motivation some people have, that America is the Big Satan and and is against Islam and if you go over there and bomb the Twin Towers Allah will bless you and we hate their freedom and their women skimper around in bikinis everywhere and women are allowed to drive cars and they drink alcohol and have no religious morals. That’s the drash. Does it exist? Absolutely. But it ain’t the pshat.

Now if you want to get deeper into the sod of the Muslim equivalent of the Zohar, then they’ll have 72 virgins in heaven and all the rest of whatever they want to believe.

Why is drash of Muslim world domination and 13th Imam the drash, and not the pshat? Because, let’s say America had no bases in Muslim countries. Zero. And let’s say the US army never invaded a single Arab country, ever. Never dropped a single bomb on any Arab, period. Now, let me ask you this honestly, neocons, and answer honestly:

Do you really think, in that case, that Muslim religious fanatics would be able to convince anyone to go bomb the Twin Towers?

If you really think that “terrorism” would exist if America did not conduct wars in Arab countries all the time, for years on end, then you are crazy. Crazy crazy crazy. You think that Bitya’s arm magically extended and that she had no servants. You hopelessly confuse Pshat and Drash like a kindergartner.

But why do you do that? Because if you accept the Pshat as Pshat, then America is ultimately responsible, and maybe all the propaganda you’ve been inculcated with since you were a kid is all bullshit. Because maybe Bert Cohen is right, and you have to reassess everything. So you completely dump the pshat. And along with it you dump anyone who says that pshat is pshat. That they hate us because we kill them. That America started it. That the drash is just drash. And anyone who says that…is “evil,” “lacking basic human decency,” “Paultard,” “egregious” and an “ISIS sympathizer” and would defends some guy named “Hitler”. And if I bring up a quote that says that maybe Muslims don’t actually want to destroy Israel, I’m the insane one.

There is no Drash without the Pshat. Yes, Muslim religious fanatics, especially leaders, will say that they want the 13th Imam and America must be destroyed and American women wear bikinis all hours of the day in all weather conditions. And drive cars.

Muslims are by far not the first group to want to conquer the world and make everyone believe in their religion. And they won’t be the last. And ISIS is not the first group of people to behead their enemies to get a rise out of them.

But in order to conduct a war, you need to convert the masses to believe in it. And masses generally don’t give a damn about countries that do not attack their home. In order to conduct a war, Muslim extremists need a pshat so people fight the war. And the pshat is that American foreign policy started and is responsible for 9/11. 

Muslims are not the first to target civilians in a war (that’s the definition of “terrorism”, no?) America did plenty of that with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sure, America justifies it by saying it saved American lives. Well so does Al Qaeda. Go after American civilians, bankrupt the government, and it’ll stop attacking our countries. I guarantee you that’s what they say. 9/11 saved Muslim lives.

Now, call me crazy, call me insane, call me evil. Whatever you want. But at least I don’t confuse Pshat and Drash.

Think about the Pshat, and please, let it sit in your brain as a possibility, for 5 seconds. Just 5 seconds, consider it. Then you can throw it out. But just give yourself 5 seconds to question everything. Don’t let the reptilian disgust disturb you for at least 5 seconds. And let that doubt about America sit there, undisturbed, for just 5 seconds. And see where it leads you.

And Bert, I’m sorry I thought you were so nuts. You were right.