One of the most frequently asked questions this week has been, "Why do they hate us?" The Boston Globe (Sunday 9/16) devoted a series of articles to that question, and they make a number of critically important points. The one I find most important is:
Bin Laden and his followers don't just hate what we DO, they hate who we ARE. They hate the fundamental values that we hold as good, and they hate the prosperity that we have. Their god is a god of rigid rules; we are a society of freedom. Their god is a god of denial and scarcity; we are a society of abundance. Their god is a god of patriarchical order and control; we are a society that holds women and men as created equal. Their god is a god that exacts sacrifice and martyrdom in this life for the promise of a reward in the hereafter; ours is a society that says we have an inalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".Thus, it is a mistake to blame these terrorist attacks on our foreign policies and military actions of the past, no matter how flawed and regrettable they may have been. We can work to avoid those mistakes in the future; we do not want to change who we are.
It is also a mistake to believe that all Muslims hate us or that the nihilistic mindset of a Bin Laden is representative of Islam. As discussed in a NY Times column of Friday, there is something like a civil war going on with Islam itself between what the writer calls the modernists and the medievalists. It is the medievalists who would take the world back to a culture of ignorance and fear, while the modernists stand with us if we will only let them.
I invite you to read the full article in:
This helps a lot in knowing who is our enemy and who is not. To revise a familiar saying,
May we have the strength to overcome the bad guys, The courage to trust the good guys, And the wisdom to know the difference.
[In response to the above, a friend writes to ask whether we have ever heard directly from those who hate us, or whether the media and our western sensibilities have prevented that.]
I understand and share your skepticism about whether we have ever heard an unfiltered version of what bin Laden and others of his ilk think or want. The best we have are the various articles, some of which have been referenced in previous posts here, written by rational and, I think, caring people who have travelled and lived in the middle east and other Islamic countries.
As many of the articles have shown, bin Laden represents a small minority in his view and interpretation of Islam. He was, after all, kicked out of Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries because he attacked the rulers of those countries for not following his medieval interpretation.
However, I think the main reason we do not hear his side of the story is that he is not talking -- to us or anyone not already on his side. He is not talking, just blowing things up -- just as the hijackers of September 11 did not seek ransom, or negotiation, or even to issue a tirade on world television before going to their death. They simply went forward with a wordless, methodical plan of massive destruction.
This might be a good place to note that this pattern is not limited to Islamic terrorists. We must not forget Timothy McVie and the Unabomber -- 100% American products. And while the latter wrote many lengthy letters, did anyone ever really understand what drove him to domestic terrorism?
Many of us have probably had the experience of dealing with someone in a blind rage -- an emotional state where talking or being talked to was absolutely impossible. Many of us have probably been in such a state, at least as children. Fortunately, most of us also got through it and past it without doing any physical harm. My "armchair psychologist" thought is that terrorist leaders get to this place, and to a much deeper version of it, and remain there permanently. It may not appear as screaming and being out of control, but the mind and heart are nonetheless locked and sealed and cannot be reached nor reach out. Communication is dead.
Thus, I doubt we will ever hear anything from bin Laden that we can understand. On the other hand, there have been many thoughtful articles written about how people get to be terrorists -- what kind of factors can transform a person into that place of deadlocked fanaticism. I can't being to recount them all here, but Bush and Co. need to consider this carefully. We must pay as much attention to rooting out the conditions that breed new terrorists as we do to 'smoking out' the ones already there. Otherwise, our efforts will be as effective as swatting black flies on a spring day in New Hampshire.
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