Acts of terror are by their nature designed to kill and maim people who have no clear responsibility for whatever motivates the terrorists. Terrorists don’t care about whether those who suffer are innocent or guilty. Indeed, the more the victims seem random, the better for their purposes.
Such astounding, diseased disregard for human life should offend us, no matter what our faith or philosophy. Such cruelty is a violation of justice and a rejection of our common humanity.
Terror’s game plan isn’t about the people who are killed or wounded. It is about what the society targeted can be induced to do in response.
If the targeted society can be prompted to react in ways that give the lie to that society’s claims to virtue, then terrorism wins the round.
That the so-called “Islamic State” launched these cruel attacks should come as no surprise. IS has a serious problem. They need recruits. Without more willing martyrs, they cannot hope to establish and expand the “caliphate” they envision for the Middle East, nor become a force the nations of the globe must reckon with on equal terms.
Terror is designed to afford them those recruits, not by the “attractiveness” of the terror itself, but by the injustice of the response of the society that has been victimized by terror.
The language of injustice, here in our country, was evident before these attacks, and is only getting worse.
One man who could be this nation’s leader has expressed serious reservations about Islam . . . not radical Islam, not a particular twisted interpretation of that religious tradition, but Islam itself. Such language suggests that millions of American citizens and legal residents are, in the end, not American.
Another has suggested that Muslim refugees from Syria should not be welcome in the U.S. It is worth noting that such a ban would affect, for the most part, Muslim men, women and children who already have been targets of the terror and brutality of IS . . . precisely those within the Muslim community least likely to be a threat to our security and most likely to be an asset in our efforts to prevent home-grown terror.
Still another has indicated that our nation should “strongly consider” shutting mosques across the U.S. (What part of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” does he not understand?)
These kinds of statements, especially from prominent U.S. citizens, provide great material for IS social media recruitment campaigns.
The practical truth is, whether or not we can achieve or choose to achieve a permanent military victory against radical Islam by military means, we cannot lose that war. It is fantasy on the grandest of scales to picture IS conquering the U.S., or Europe, and imposing sharia law upon an oppressed population.
There is a war we can lose, and one that we can ill afford to lose. That war is for the moral high ground. It is a war with ourselves, as much as with anyone else.
In times past, we have lost that war, with bitter consequences.
Consider that, at the end of World War I, the conquering countries, in righteous indignation and less-than-righteous political ambition, demanded nation-crippling reparations from the vanquished. The Allies convinced ourselves that this was only what we were due, given the huge burdens the war placed upon us.
For a time, the vanquished remained vanquished. But their pride was wounded, and their sense of justice offended, by the severity of the sanctions and the bitterness of their real-life consequences.
In the seedbed fertilized with such resentment, a new and vastly darker movement germinated and grew. It pointed to the injustice of the Treaty’s terms, the arrogance of the conquerors, and the nation’s own beleaguered pride, as rallying points for action and, ultimately, for war. The harvest the world reaped cost the lives of millions.
When at last that war ended, the conquerors this time demonstrated one of humanity’s most endearing traits: our capacity to learn from our mistakes.
Today, Germany, Japan and Italy are allies who cherish human rights, equality and opportunity. None of those nations are perfect . . . nor are we. But we are all much closer to the ideals of democracy than we were in 1936.
Now is not the time to forget what we have learned. Now is not the time to embrace the rhetoric of hatred and prejudice.
Should we take concrete steps to deal with IS as a terrorist organization? Absolutely.
Should we allow their evil deeds to prompt us to treat others with the same prejudice (if not the same violence) as they evince?
Because if one thing is certain, it is that when terrorist groups succeed in getting decent people to treat others indecently, it is the terrorists who have won, and humanity that has lost.