By Jason Scott Jones and John Zmirak
Has it really been 13 years? Can it be true that a child conceived on Sept. 11, 2001, would now be in junior high school? Those of us who lost friends that day might feel that it was only a moment ago. We all lost something that day – if only the blithe and innocent optimism that had washed over us in 1989, with the fall of the Soviet bloc and the liberation of hundreds of millions of people. Remember the "peace dividend"? That, too, was consumed in the burning towers, along with all the peaceful uses to which it might have been put.
And so we have spent trillions, and thousands of American lives, hunting down terrorism and making war on "terror." But the very lands we fought to liberate are lapsing back into evil. Religious war is spreading and worsening through much of the Middle East. Christians and other minorities are not safer than they were in 2001; they are fleeing for their lives. Theocratic extremists are not hiding in caves; they are issuing passports.
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Can it be that we misunderstood who we were fighting, and hence lacked the weapons to win?
First let us finally scrape away what residual myths might obscure our vision: The men who perpetrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the men who slaughtered an American journalist last month, were not motivated by anger at Israeli policies or American imperialism. They were not the products of poverty or the victims of colonialism. Each form of quasi-Marxist analysis fails to explain the rise of this hideous hybrid, the articulate mass murderer. Nor were they in any meaningful sense "medieval."
These were thoroughly modern men. Such men would have been hard to imagine a hundred years ago, when the actual Caliphate still presided over Sunnis around the world. At least, they would have been unimaginable as Muslims. But the West was rife with men along the lines of Mohamed Atta – educated and alienated, spoiled and hence resentful, Puritanical and decadent. One such was Joseph Conrad's "Anarchist" in "The Secret Agent," a creature who has burned through all the normal human sources of hope and gratification, seen through them to the very depths of nihilism, then chosen from the void a pure and absolute creed: destruction and murder, almost for their own sake. As Michael Burleigh documents in his magisterial "Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism," imperial Russia was riddled with men like this. The most disciplined among them would form the core of the Bolsheviks. In "Metapolitics," Peter Viereck describes the proto-Nazi movement in similar terms, calling these corps of failed artists who went on to paint in blood and iron "armed Bohemians."
They are creatures of transition and reaction, these cogent killers. They have seen enough of modern dislocation to have shaken off traditional restraints and patriarchal authority: No sheikh or cleric would have any power to restrain them. They choose their own authorities, seeking those who cater to their instincts. They are loyal to no country except the utopia they have chosen, a citizenship of the mind that is confirmed in deeds of fire. They have known religious doubt, perhaps have been apostates. They strayed far enough from their faiths to encounter bitterness and guilt, and draw back into bigotry. Now you and I, as unbelievers or misbelievers, are living icons of everything these men have strained their nerves to reject. They can watch us from a distance, as Mohamed Atta would watch American girls at strip joints, and see in our very flesh the incarnation of evil. And they know just how to purge it.
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The implacable evil of religious terrorism and bigotry must be firmly faced with force. It must be outwitted by sharp intelligence services and infiltrated at every turn, without any regard for political correctness. But we must also understand it, and the psycho-spiritual crises that give rise to it. Such bigotry is the desperate cry in a vacuum, of men who have tried to live in the modern world and have spectacularly failed. Too proud to admit defeat, they announce themselves as victims, and dream of a martyr's revenge.
As long as we in the West continue to pare away, inch by inch, at the notion that human life, or marriage, or love, is something sacred, we are helping to drain that vacuum. With each unnatural experiment in crafting embryos or cannibalizing them for parts, we are whispering to the anarchists among us, "There is no God. All is permitted." They will find their own god, made up of a mangled image torn from a traditional religion, and they will act on that permission. And we will wonder again what happened, where we went wrong.
Jason Scott Jones and John Zmirak are co-authors of "The Race to Save Our Century: Five Core Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom, and a Culture of Life."