Picture a large family living in one house. They may have been a cozy tight-knit family once, but years of resentments have turned them against each other. The mother and father are both having affairs. The in-laws have long resentments built up that evolved into seething hatred. The kids are dysfunctional, anti-social and escaping into their own delusional fantasy worlds or getting high on drugs.
And then one evening, someone opens fire on the house. Shards of broken glass and shrapnel fill the living room. Many of the family members are injured. Some are killed. In the throes of the crisis, they put away their grievances and hostilities. Wounds are bandaged and last words are whispered. Some drive to the hospital while others set out to look for the perpetrator vowing to avenge the dead.
The feelings hold strong for a few days, a few weeks and maybe even a few months. But then life goes back to normal. The perpetrator is never found. The old hatreds, always much nearer, are embraced. The brief period of unity is dismissed as insincere posturing. The different family members start to blame each other for the attack, for not having been watchful enough or even for secretly carrying it out.
And after the broken glass was cleaned away, everything in the house has gone back to the way it was. The family hate each other all over again. Maybe even worse than they did before. And just as they’re back at each other’s throats, it happens again. Once again there’s bodies and broken glass.
This is America after 9/11. And all the attacks afterward. It’s also Israel, Europe and much of the world. If the attack is bad enough, we briefly wake up, we pull together and rediscover who we are as a nation and a culture. What ought to be an empowering and invigorating experience never gels into anything because we are dysfunctional, because we live in delusional fantasy worlds, and because the idea that there is an outside enemy worse than our internecine hatreds appears impossible and unreal.
Islamic terrorism is reality. It’s a hard and sharp edged reality. It’s knives, bullets and bombs. It’s fires and broken glass. It slashes its way through an unreal fantasy world of media and social media, of celebrity gossip, movie trailers, trending topics and the nonsense that fills our heads and our everyday lives.
It’s too real because we’ve become unaccustomed to reality. The thing about reality is that it’s ugly. Like a patient dying in an ICU or like the smell of a dead animal in a slaughterhouse, it’s a reality we don’t like to confront. And we’ve built elaborate systems to keep us from confronting it. A big enough attack, a massive spectacle, can cut through all the layers of imaginary things coating our brains and our eyes.
But only for so long.
The viral ideas that pass for reality quickly incorporate the latest attack into the realm of the unreal. Simple and straightforward brutality is overlaid with the sophisticated analyses of a decadent society. Academics pontificate on how the straightforward Islamic barbarism of over a thousand years is the result of globalism, colonialism and capitalism. Conspiracy theorists refuse to believe that a bunch of men named Mohammed really did it. And eventually the actual reality of the attack disappears and the old worldviews that ruled the shadows of our minds reassert themselves.
We go back to the way things were before 9/11 or the latest Islamic terrorist attack. And to do that all we have to do is ignore Islamic terrorism. We have to explain what happened in terms of our resentments of each other and then the family dynamic can return. Things can be like they were.
Islamic terrorism is an unwelcome distraction because we don’t actually control it and because it is all too real. It diverts us from whatever it was we were focused on before it happened. It forces us to sit up and pay attention to something that is real in a way that none of the abstract politics before it were.
But the familiar reasserts itself. Unity breaks apart. We start blaming each other and arguing over the right response. And we discover that we are much more comfortable fighting each other than Islam.
In Israel, it’s beginning to happen already just as it did in America.
A week ago, Israelis on the left were seriously asserting that Netanyahu was planning to make himself king. And then suddenly a shocking and horrifying reality arrived. Will Israelis pull together? They have for the moment. But the usual political players are maneuvering for advantage. The families of the hostages are threatening to shake the government. There’s grousing about inadequate preparation. And the conspiracy theorists have already arrived to explain that the whole thing was clearly done by the government because how else could it have missed the Hamas attack. (This shortly after the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur during which the government missed a much larger invasion.)
All of this is normal. But normalcy is exactly the problem.
The only way to fight Islamic terrorism is to leave a dysfunctional normalcy behind and rediscover what it means to be a nation fighting for its survival against enemies whose evil is utterly unmitigated.
Out of such stone, great nations, peoples and heroes were once carved.
But for many the reality of Islamic terrorism is an unwelcome distraction from whatever rabbit holes they’ve gone down. Fantasy is more malleable, more exciting and less painful than reality. In fantasy, you are a main character, whereas in reality, you’re someone cowering under a table waiting to die.
And who wants to live in reality? Strong men and women, not necessarily physically, but mentally and morally, who are not easily swayed or crazed, who stick to common sense and hard choices.
Unfortunately the peoples of the world have become weak, crazed, deadened, maddened and, like the former citizens of Byzantium, determined to keep fighting each other to the last minute while the Islamic hordes advance.
Reality is inescapable. We saw that in Israel again, just as we see it with every act of Islamic terrorism. It’s the outside world breaking through the illusions we’ve embraced and forcing us to look up from them. We can either wake up and stay awake. Or we can go back to sleep until we perish.