Reflections on an age of terror

After two horrific weeks of death for innocents in London, Baghdad, and Sharm El Sheik, and the prospect of more in unpredictable places, some random thoughts on the implications to our freedom and our moral condition.

All moral ideas are not equal.  In fact, some are repulsive and should be condemned without qualification.  A mother who murders her child is a monster.  There may be explanations of the factual event, the murder, but this doesn’t touch the quality of the moral event, the monstrousness of the act.  Equally, a man who slaughters innocents at random and by the score is a moral monster, regardless of the justifications that he or others may concoct.  The latter may possibly explain, but will never absolve.

This should be obvious and beyond dispute, but it isn’t.  The moral structure of mass murderers has been explained in forgiving terms by people who should know better, and on occasion – by those who loathe this country, or the President, or global capitalism – it has been excused and justified.

The first group, the kind forgivers, are the multiculturalists.  As Mark Steyn writes in The Australian, the latest series of attacks, particularly those in London, may have dealt a death-blow to the vapid notion that each of us can follow a separate morality, and live in a distinct culture, within the same community.

At The Age, Terry Lane, last heard blaming John Howard for the “end of democracy as we know it” and calling for “the army of my country … to be defeated” in Iraq, now says multiculturalism is a “repulsive word” whereas “assimilation is a beaut” and should be commended.

Morality and culture provide the directing energy, the daily guidance and measure of individual progress, of every society.  Just like we are unable to head simultaneously north, south, east, and west, we also can’t follow multiple cultures and moralities and still pretend to be, out of many, one.  We must be tolerant.  We must allow for plural paths to salvation.  But in the end, as a nation, we must insist on a single set of rules of behavior.

A morality of murder and suicide has erupted over an unsuspecting world.  The President calls the followers of this faith “evildoers,” which horrifies multiculturalists.  “War on terror” also leaves many dissatisfied.  Words are besides the point.  Since 9/11, we have been in a violent struggle against this religion of death.  No imagination is needed to picture the effect of a single lapse in this struggle:  see Iraq today, Israel three years ago, or talk to the parents of those who, for no reason our own moral beliefs can explain, were slaughtered without a thought of mercy.

“I told her be careful, have a great birthday and I love her,” Tony Miller, father of Kristina Miller, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” […]  “That was the last time I talked to her,” Miller said.

The second group, the excusers, are beyond the pale.  Those who seek to politicize the death of innocents, to settle scores with Tony Blair or George Bush or the world hegemon or global capitalism, are morally as base and unworthy as the mass murderers they embrace.

In a time of war, leaders should get the benefit of the doubt.  I personally dislike flag-waving and rabble-rousing, but make no mistake:  our country is a transcendental ideal, based on a proposition of freedom and equality, and its institutions no less than its fighting men and women deserve all the honor we can offer.  The alternative?  We will squabble and distract ourselves with political games, while those who would murder our children creep silently into position.

One last thought.  Islam is not, in any demonstrable sense, a religion of peace.  The word means “submission.”  The faith has been spread by the sword.  I have no great knowledge of the subject, but some things are clear even to me.  The Muslim world expects to be allowed to live according to its own moral strictures.  It doesn’t suffer from multiculturalism.  Bibles aren’t allowed in Saudi Arabia, for example, and when discovered are confiscated.

All the mass murderers of the last two weeks, whether in Baghdad or London or Egypt, have claimed to do their bloody work on behalf of Islam.  We in the pluralistic West must ask very hard questions about this religion, if we too wish to continue to live according to our moral strictures.

The criminalizing of “hate speech,” which as observes, has brought prosecution against critics of Muslim practices in France, Italy, and Australia, appears in this light as a kind of intellectual suicide pact.  If, as Tony Blair recently said, we are engaged less on a “war on terror” than a war of ideas, we must be free to ask unpleasant, even offensive questions, and to criticize practices that, from the perspective of our liberal democratic principles, appear wrong-headed, undesirable, or illicit.


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