(Centennial Fellow) It is an easy, and not entirely inaccurate, observation to make that an overly latitudinarian and morally relativistic society is at least partially to blame for last week’s bomb attacks in Boston. It is not entirely accurate, either; in the final analysis, it is terrorists, and the strictures that motivate them, that are to blame for acts of terror. More importantly, it is how a society responds to such attacks that matter, and whether that response will be framed by an unchecked barbarous emotion on one extreme, a fanatically tolerant, multi–culturalist approach on the other; or a more pragmatic, realistic one that recognizes the incompatibility of our own culture with that of radical, fundamentalist Islam.
Like any such event, the bombings led to a bout of national self–reproach and second–guessing. Much criticism has centered on the President’s apparent oscillation over the terminology—i.e. use of the word “terrorism”, or conspicuous non–use of the word “Islamic”.
Now, to be fair, “terrorism” is one of those words that tend to slip the fetters of appropriately restrained usage. I use, as reference, the definition once offered by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose credentials on such matters are, I contend, well–established. He defined terrorism as “the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends.” Not every act of mass violence is an act of terror, as the term ought to be applied; neither should the bar be set too low on what constitutes “political ends”—i.e. not every crackpot Sirhan Sirhan wanna–be with a personal drug– or disorder–fueled manifesto meets the standard. So terminological prudence in the early days of the situation was entirely called for. I think that we now, however, have enough information at our disposal to begin forming both a picture, and a framing an appropriate reaction.
What should that reaction be? Well, it needs to start with a cold recognition of who and what we as a society are dealing with. America is no longer the nation that not so very long ago rather naïvely believed that terrorism was something that happened on TV, in other places—in Israel, or Lebanon, or Uganda, or Belfast, or (at nearest) aboard a cruise ship or TWA airliner. 9–11 changed that paradigm. But like statecraft in general, the war on terrorism (if in fact we remain committed to the fight in more than just a receiving role) requires flexibility. We are confronted now with the possibility of a new breed of terrorist—the radicalized, but loosely amalgamated, Islamic fundamentalist; the independent jihadist.
It is immensely difficult to institute preemptive security measures that will prove 100% reliable. Probably the most effective preemption would be a moderate Muslim voice persuasive enough to dissuade the would–be Jihadist, a voice which seems sadly absent. So the American government still needs to develop a coherent policy to effectively deal with the problem. A timely example of what this could look like comes from across the Atlantic.
It was both perverse and oddly poignant that the funeral for the Right Honourable Margaret Thatcher was held on the same week as the bombings. As much, probably more, than any contemporary western leader (save perhaps her good friend, Ronald Reagan,) Baroness Thatcher demonstrated the proper reaction to such acts. As Prime Minister of Great Britain, Lady Thatcher made it official policy to stare terror, aggression, and evil in the face, and to counter it with moral certainty and the decisiveness that naturally followed, as she ably demonstrated in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, and the Cold War. In so doing, she revived a British spirit that had been left for dead, in a manner reminiscent of Winston Churchill or Queen Elizabeth I, and ultimately prevailed against the IRA, the Argentinians, and the Soviet Union.
A dismissive, self–loathing, ACLU–style fanatical interpretation and misapplication of civil rights based on moral and cultural relativism will not serve our interests. The Boston terrorists may well have been acting on their own accord. But the underlying ideology that catalyzed their actions remains a force moved by international impulses, and backed (currently) by organized elements and certain nation–states, and (soon) by nuclear, not pressure cooker, bombs.
Attacks like the one in Boston last week demand an official response. Those in charge of such things can choose to make that response one steeped in politically correct, egalitarian, relativistic terms—like the call for utterly pointless new gun laws following the Sandy Hook massacre—or they can choose to recognize and apply, as did Baroness Thatcher, cold, hard realities, and the existence of moral truths and the imperatives that follow.