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Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2001 / 29 Tishrei, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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A culture of death -- SOMETIMES the bad guys make my job easy.

Normally, as a columnist, part of my job is to analyze the hidden meaning or unnamed consequences of bad ideas. In these cases, it is usually necessary to pierce through a veil of seemingly benevolent rhetoric and complex practical justifications, in order to show why a given policy is destructive.

In the war against Islamic fundamentalism, I can retire early. Here is the truth directly from the source.

Mohammed Hussein Mostassed, a Taliban official, sums up the essence of the current conflict: "The Americans are fighting so they can live and enjoy the material things in life. But we are fighting so we can die in the cause of G-d." Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a spokesman for Osama bin Laden, echoes the same theme: "There are thousands of the Islamic nation's youths who are eager to die just as the Americans are eager to live."

There you have it: Islamic fundamentalists worship death. But death, for them, is not just about killing and dying. They embrace a comprehensive morality of death, a culture which hates every sign of pleasure and worships everything associated with death: poverty, ignorance, dictatorship.

Here, for example, is bin Laden's view of money: "money is like a passing shadow. We urge Muslims to spend their money on jihad and especially on the movements that have devoted themselves to the killing of Jews and the Crusaders." Wealth, for the fundamentalists, is not a means to the enjoyment of life; it is only valuable as a means of causing death.

How about knowledge, education and the use of the mind? At the madrasahs, fundamentalist Islamic schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, "There is no instruction in math, science, geography, current events or history beyond the Muslim world. Visitors describe youngsters who ... cannot do elementary arithmetic and who have no idea man has walked on the moon," according to U.S. News and World Report. Instead, these students spend years devoted to the rote memorization of the Koran in Arabic -- a language they do not understand. Thinking may be necessary for success in life, but not for death.

These death worshippers also know who pioneered their morality of death. Sheik Sami ul Haq, head of the Haqqania madrasah, the Pakistani school that produced most of the Taliban leadership, praises his political hero: "Adolf Hitler knew a lot about controlling the Jews." He goes on to declare that "we need a rebirth of Nazi Germany" and names present-day Afghanistan as the fulfillment of that goal.

Now that we know who the enemy is and what he stands for, it is just as important to know what we stand for.

It is clear that Americans stand for life. We are not merely wealthy; we dedicate our lives to the production of wealth, to advancing our careers and building cities and skyscrapers. We are not merely free; our government was founded on the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." And we do not merely enjoy ourselves; we implicitly view enjoyment as the goal of life. In the phrase, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the last item is clearly the purpose of the other two.

This is why I wince every time I hear someone praise the "self-sacrifice" of our firefighters, policemen and soldiers. Self-sacrifice, the deliberate destruction of one's own life, is the essence of the enemy's morality, not ours. Our heroes risk their lives only in cases of temporary emergency, and because they know that risking their lives is the only way to protect themselves and their loved ones from disaster, from predatory criminals, or from blood-lusting barbarians. The goal of our heroes is not death, but life and the freedom to live it.

Americans do not merely embrace life. Our culture is based on what the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand called a "morality of life," a morality that holds, as its primary value, the survival and enjoyment of human life.

It used to be said, after the fall of Communism, that we had reached the "end of history," that there were to be no more grand struggles between systems or ideals. The events of the past month -- and the searing image of the enemy's suicidal killers crashing our airplanes into our skyscrapers -- are a reminder that the grandest struggle of all, the alternative that has faced us all along, is still here. It is a battle between the morality of death and the morality of life.

Comment on JWR contributor Robert W. Tracinski's column by clicking here.

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06/11/01: The National Academy of Dubious Science