Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
We know what is going to follow the latest terrorist murder in Nice. Shrines to the dead will instantly spring up. Conclaves of citizens will gather at sorrowful demonstrations filled with ecumenical clichés. The media will profile selected victims, wringing every ounce of pathos out of their tragedy. Twitter will be inundated with sentimental bromides and ephemeral hashtags, and politicians will give solemn and empty speeches laced with even emptier threats.
Welcome to terror in a therapeutic age.
What we will not read are passionate demands from most citizens of Western governments that mind-concentrating force be unleashed on those responsible for the latest slaughter of the innocents. Nor will we hear stirring speeches from our political leaders that forcefully make the moral case for war against the murderers and their enablers.
Obsessing over feelings and emotions is what many moderns reflexively substitute for meaningful action. Righteous anger and burning revenge of the sort that fired up Americans after the Pearl Harbor attacks are too “mean” and “hurtful,” and require a serious commitment and exorbitant risk. Displaying emotion is cheap and gratifying and offends no one. Indeed, such displays demonstrate the purveyors’ superior “we are the world” sensibilities and sensitivity. It is “conspicuous compassion,” as Alan Bloom called it, as much a status symbol as Veblen’s conspicuous consumption. It’s how people show themselves to be civilized and advanced, too sophisticated for retrograde emotions like avenging anger. That’s so Old Testament.
In the therapeutic world, conflict is to be resolved by peace, love, and understanding. Or as our Attorney General said after the Orlando jihadist massacre, “Our common humanity transcends our differences, and our most effective response to terror is compassion, it’s unity and it’s love.” Thus the institutional instruments for resolving our differences with the jihadists are diplomatic engagement, foreign aid, economic development, negotiated agreements, and careful nurturing of our enemies’ self-esteem. We must flatter them, stroke their egos, attend to their grievances, censor any unpleasant facts about their religion. Pretend, as Obama does, that Islam, the “religion of peace” and has absolutely nothing to do with Muslim terrorism, or what he prefers to call “violent extremists.” Assert, like Hillary, “Let’s be clear: Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”
The problem is, we live in a world of people with radically different ideas about the goods they should pursue, and who don’t give a damn about “peace, love, understanding,” or the opinions of Western infidels about their religion. Whatever their potential is for possessing and recognizing a “common humanity,” in practice this possibility remains mostly unexpressed in their traditional religious tenets. Rather, Muslim jihadists––and hundreds of millions of ordinary Muslims–– limit their compassion, sympathy, and respect for humanity to fellow Muslims, and deny them to the infidel or heretic. That’s why zakat, the personal obligation for Muslims to make charitable contributions, for the most part restricts that charity to other Muslims.
The only “common humanity” pious Muslims recognize is the divine obligation for all humans to become Muslim. Their highest goods are not democracy, prosperity, leisure, and tolerance, but obedience to Allah and his laws. And millions of them view violence in the name of Allah as the divinely justified instrument for creating a world in which “all men say there is no god but Allah.”
Appeals to a “common humanity,” then, are useless as appeasing flattery for dealing with a man who, willing to die and kill in the name of Allah, drives a truck over men, women, and children, killing, mangling, and dismembering them. Flattery only confirms the jihadist’s belief that the infidel West is populated by godless hedonists eager only to enjoy life for one more day, and so are willing to sacrifice their freedom and rights for the short-term pleasures of la dolce vita. They are unworthy of compassion, for they no longer know what is worth dying and killing for. They have forgotten what Lincoln called the “awful arithmetic,” the tragic reality that some people must die today so that more people don’t die later––the gruesome calculus that the Allies followed to defeat fascism, Japanese imperialism, and Nazism.
Over forty years ago, the great Soviet dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his Nobel lecture identified this chronic weakness that permeates the West:
The spirit of Munich has by no means retreated into the past; it was not a brief episode. I even venture to say that the spirit of Munich is dominant in the twentieth century. The intimidated civilized world has found nothing to oppose the onslaught of a suddenly resurgent fang-baring barbarism, except concessions and smiles. The spirit of Munich is a disease of the will of prosperous people; it is the daily state of those who have given themselves over to a craving for prosperity in every way, to material well-being as the chief goal of life on earth. Such people––and there are many of them in the world today––choose passivity and retreat, anything if only life to which they are accustomed might go on, anything so as not to have to cross over to rough terrain today, because tomorrow, see, everything will be all right. But it never will! The reckoning for cowardice will only be more cruel. Courage and the power to overcome will be ours only when we dare to make sacrifices.
These comments about the Soviet Union and the West are just as true today about the “fang-baring barbarism” of Islamic jihad. The surreal denial of the nature of the enemy and his religious motivations; the symbolic military gestures that serve public relations and political advantage rather than a strategy for defeating the enemy; the unwillingness to accept the eternal tragic realities of war and instead create suicidal rules of engagement vetted by pettifogging lawyers; and the refusal of citizens to pay the price necessary for destroying the enemy––all reflect the disease that Solzhenitsyn identified.
The problem is one of morale, not ability. We can destroy ISIS. Even the fictional Peter Quinn, from the series Homeland, knows how: put 200,000 troops in a country indefinitely or “bomb Raqqa into a parking lot.” In the real world, Asia Times columnist “Spengler” agrees. Wage total war both against the enemy abroad and against fellow travelers and sympathizers at home.
But don’t hold your breath. The political will for such action does not exist among a significant number of Americans. They would rather feel than act. Meanwhile, they indulge lachrymose sentiment, a luxury of the pampered rich. They call for “diplomacy” and “engagement,” the tried and true camouflage for the fear to act. They prefer to spend money on more and more government provided “butter” rather than on guns, as they move on to the next episode of televised tragedy in between bouts of Pokémon Go.
Meanwhile, the reckoning for our cowardice grows ever closer and ever crueler.