Eating the Apple

Eve did it. Adam did it. Now it's my turn to take a bite. Why not? Hey! It's delicious.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Culture of Death

Today is September 11 -- plus five years. Last night I watched several documentaries probing different aspects of that terrible event. Time after time, the collapse of the World Trade Center as shown on television -- the moment when two thousand people died.

I grew up during the Second World War, before the age of television. The closest thing to television were newsreels that were shown in movie houses. These were censored and sanitized to avoid the horrors of war.

Nowadays the horrors of war come at us uncensored and unsanitized. Thanks to television, today's war is much more intimate, more intimate. Its horrors are palpable.

I wonder what the effect of on young children of seeing these tragic scenes of destruction. Will they be like young Jews who are constantly reminded of the Holocaust? Or will their psyches turn to something darker and deeper? An end-times mentality?

It is for us to learn how to live on in a future marked by September 11. How do we come to terms with a world where many people hate us. Much of our reaction to September has been harmful. The immediate reaction was to retreat into an Americanistic jingoism and chauvinism. We flew the American flag, forgetting that foreigners from sixty countries also died in the World Trade Center. Then we punished foreigners who overstayed their visas. We have done much to antagonize foreigners -- especially Muslims.

What we need to understand is that there is a struggle in Islam between the culture of life and the culture of death. The culture of life produces healers and builders. The culture of life moves toward freedom and secularism. It produces people whose greatest ambition is to raise families, to live well, and to help one's families and neighbors.

The culture of death glorifies 'martyrdom'. (This not the same as Christian martyrdom. Christian did not kill or commit suicide. The simply refused to renounce their beliefs in order to save the lives.) The Islamic culture of death sacrifices their children for the glory of Allah.

What complicates matters is that this cultural struggle is not just a struggle between two factions of Muslims -- between modern secularists and radical fundamentalists. It is that -- but it is much more. The culture of life battles the culture of death in the hearts of millions of Muslims. It is a battle for the soul of Islam.

For example, there is a video that shows a 9/11 hijacker attending a wedding and singing a song that glorifies martyrdom. The faces on this video show appreciation of this song. In this moment, the culture of life met the culture of death. The recent war in Lebanon proves how appealing the culture of death has become among the Shia of that country.

The biggest reason for the failure of the Iraq misadventure was that Bush and the Vulcans had no understanding of non-Western cultures -- and little patience or sympathy for anyone who disagreed with them. The worst part of this disaster was not that Iraq failed to become a beacon for freedom, democracy, and peace. The worst part was that our intervention reinforced the culture of death and spread it across the world, from North Africa to Indonesia. Now 'martyrs' are rising all over this world. For generations to come we will be paying a bloody price for 53 years of mistakes made by our government.

We Americans cannot defeat Islamic terrorism by ourselves. Nor can we defeat terrorists even if the British, the French, the Germans, and the Russians help us. What we need to do is to work with moderate Muslims. We need Muslim families to teach their children that suicide is immoral and suicide bombings are evil. We must help the culture of life overcome the culture of death.

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