Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Over at FrontPage Magazine is an article by Robert Spencer that makes a very good point about a number of "great guys" who turn eventually out to be Moslem terrorists:
Were these SS mass murderers really decent fellows? To their friends and family, they probably were. After all, they weren't interested in undifferentiated mayhem. They were adherents of a totalitarian, genocidal ideology that convinced them that the murders they were committing were for a good purpose. As far as they were concerned, their goals were rational and good, and the murders were a means to that goal. It was not just a noteworthy achievement, but a necessity, for them to remain "decent fellows," for they were busy trying to build what they saw as a decent society. That their vision of a decent society included genocide and torture did not trouble them, for it was all for -- in their view -- a goal that remained good.This is an excellent point underscored by Seung-Hui Cho, whom nobody, apparently, mistook for a "decent fellow". What was so conspicuously absent in this case was an attempt, however warped or misguided to build something "good". The goal was simply destruction. This was a one-off event with limited consequences that could have easily been prevented. Having said that, Cho was a symptom of a deeper problem, of the real danger....
Today's jihad terrorists are likewise the adherents of a totalitarian, genocidal ideology that teaches them that murders committed under certain circumstances are a good thing. And those murders, here again, are not committed for their own sake, but for the sake of a societal vision hardly less draconian and evil than that of Hitler, but one also that portrays itself as the exponent of all that is good -- as the Taliban showed us. But the continued reference to such people as "terrorists" pure and simple, and the refusal of the media and most law enforcement officials to examine their ideology at all, only reinforces the idea that these people are raving maniacs, interested solely in chaos for its own sake. The society they want to build, and the means besides guns and bombs that they are using to build it, so far remain below the radar screen of most analysts. These people are just "terrorists," interested only in "terror." And so we're continually surprised when they turn out to be nice guys after all. Decent fellows. Like the SS. [bold added]
When first learning of the Blacksburg Massacre, I pondered whether this was somehow worse than the Islamist atrocities of September 11, 2001, and my conclusion is mixed. On a moral level, I regard both acts to be examples of the same level of depravity.
Psychologically, I think this is worse for most of us. Briefly: At least we had an easily-identifiable enemy and a course of action (to fight) that all but the most obtuse could see after the atrocities in New York and Washington. It is clear to me that we need cultural change after this atrocity -- but I knew that already and I also know that most people do not appreciate this fact. This horrid episode will be ugly, confusing, and hopeless to many.
And which ideology is worse in the sense of posing a greater danger to America? Islam, which animates so many modern terrorists, does provide them with a pseudo self-esteem that does help them "blend in" as nice guys, and so makes the average individual Islamofascist potentially far more dangerous than a modern nihilist like Seung-Hui Cho.
But nihilism, while its worst-afflicted individual is generally far less dangerous than an Islamofascist (and would usually be far less so, were we as a society to more confidently act on the warning signs they broadcast), represents a cultural rot that causes -- and is aided and abetted by -- our very failure to transmit the better aspects of our culture to later generations. If we cannot give our children good reasons to be moral, why should they seek to be moral or even believe that anything such as the good exists?
To the extent that people generally buy into the notion that there is no good and evil, or, as seems the case with Cho in particular, no good, they lose their motivation to achieve values, and to defend themselves from destruction. Totalitarian Islam and nihilism are both evil, anti-life ideologies, but nihilism is weakening our society from within as noted above, whereas we need only recognize totalitarian Islam for the evil ideology that it is and begin fighting its followers and presenting our civilization as the far superior alternative that it is. Nihilism is, hands-down, the greater danger of the two.
And this takes us to our greatest irony. Robert Spencer just sees the tip of the iceberg when he recognizes the value of pseudo self-esteem in helping a terrorist remain stealthy. This is true of most people who are physically dangerous, but what of the philosophers who unleashed the cultural rot in the first place? Immanuel Kant, for example, was by all accounts an eccentric, but pretty mild-mannered fellow.
The key to unraveling this seeming paradox is to realize that evil is impotent without the good. To most effectively destroy good men, one must be able to appear to be a good man in order to win their trust. To get them to destroy themselves, one must appear to offer guidance in order to win their minds. The good man's only defense is his honesty, his commitment to discovering the truth of any situation, and his willingness to act upon that truth. As Nick Provenzo put it so well, "[O]ne cannot tiptoe around evil or madness -- at least not if one seeks to live."