With the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah beginning tonight, it would be a sweet idea to hope for fresh beginnings and unity. However, in the wake of the current escalating crisis in the Middle East, we seem to be thinking about anything but the feasibility of peace. It has been increasingly hard to remain optimistic just 48 hours after the United States first led air-strikes against ISIS extremists in Syria.
It seems as if ISIS, also known as ISIL or the "Islamic State," became a threat out of nowhere this summer beginning with their aggressive coup in Iraq. But in reality, the group first took root in 2004 as an extreme off-shoot of al-Qaeda, and now claims to have authority over 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. They have taken responsibility for the killing of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, plus thousands of other civilians who stood in their way in Iraq. Earlier this week, an ISIS spokesperson called for the slaughter of Westerners -- both civilians and soldiers. Although the National Security Council said our nation would "not respond publicly to every new piece of ISIL propaganda," the threats are particularly alarming. This response came after ISIS leaders called for independent attacks in the United States and France.
I grew up as a New Yorker in a post-9/11 world, so every threat -- suspected propaganda or not -- is real. The attacks on the World Trade Center occurred when I was only eight years old. I will never forget how all the teachers were called out for a meeting, or how I was sent home only to watch the looped video of the twin towers coming down, or the panicked correspondence between friends and family. I will especially never forget the omnipresent black cloud, both physical and metaphorical, that hung over New York for a long time following the orchestrated acts of terrorism. Although I was in the third grade, I could tell that something really bad had happened and that nothing would ever be the same. I felt as if a certain innocence was robbed from me and that I could never be guaranteed certain safety.
While addressing the United Nations, President Obama spoke of needing to confront extremist groups with an aggressive military campaign, including airstrikes and a coalition of many nations who share the common goal of dismantling ISIS. Although military intervention seems inevitable, I cannot help but wonder what this will mean for the notion of "no boots on the ground." After decades of continual military intervention by the United States, it has become virtually impossible to envision a scenario when we are not at odds with some entity in the Middle East.
"Do not be wise in words, be wise in deeds" is a popular Jewish proverb that is particularly resounding during the New Year. In his closing remarks to the UN, President Obama shared a similar sentiment in saying "This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment." So we should do our best to actively seek peace in the New Year within our own lives, and hope for it on an international level as well.