After 9/11, crime all but vanished from the streets of New York City. In other words, the shock and horror caused a community to rally together above any social discord in the spirit of unity. We glimpsed this same spirit of solidarity when Osama bin Laden was finally confronted.
A day after the terror attacks that rocked London last weekend, Richard Angell, a patron in a restaurant that had been evacuated during the jihadist rampage, calmly returned to pay his bill. In explaining his generosity, Angell told a reporter, “These people shouldn’t win.” The night before, several bartenders risked their lives to defend patrons with bottles, chairs, stools, tables, anything they could find as terrorists hacked away at their customers with large knives. More lives would have been lost were it not for their bravery. Only a few weeks before, at a concert attended by mostly young girls, a homeless man, Stephen Jones—who slept most nights near the stadium—helped several victims escape to safety, even pulling nails from the faces of children.
The resolve and courage in the face of barbaric violence harkens back to the passengers aboard United 93 who sacrificed their own lives on 9/11 in order to take down a plane headed straight for the White House.
While we appropriately recognize those who act with courage, the constant repetition of the scenes has resulted, sadly, in what I call “terror fatigue.” We go about the same tired ritual: the requisite shock and sorrow, the 24-hour media coverage of victims, heroes, and families, and the inevitable autopsy of what went wrong. By this exercise, we, thus, further enable, as Hannah Arendt famously wrote, “the banality of evil.” No wonder we would rather talk about James Comey.
Against this backdrop, it is useful to pull back and contemplate the fundamental error in our approach. In the West, we have a blind spot. We want to believe that if we can only understand how a disordered person was raised, how his parents treated him, if he was an orphan, or poor, or misunderstood, or abandoned, or a victim of some real or imagined prejudice, then we can understand what makes him kill. Armed with this soft understanding, we can then prevent further tragedy by ameliorating the conditions that we think gave rise to his barbaric deeds.
In many discussions of terrorist attacks in Europe and America, we find a perverse unwillingness to accurately identify the true motivations of the perpetrators, lest we close the space to "cure them" of their zealotry. In the current, highly polarized, over-sensitized, and extremely volatile climate, it’s risky to call a thing for what it is. Instead, we hear that they were just a few misguided individuals. An aberration. A police problem. A mental health problem. An assimilation problem. Nothing to do with dark theology to notice here. Carry on. We must accept “the new normal.”
Gallup finds that most people just want a job. However, Petro-Islam has enabled and unleashed a narrow sect of men and women who often want for nothing. Several of the terrorists on 9/11 were young men of wealth and privilege, with world-class educations. They weren’t motivated by the allures of western secular materialism. They used those values to hide in plain sight. Rather, they were in the grip of a dark, violent theology. They were willing to die for its inherent irrationality. This cannot continue. Even the Saudis, who have lived for too long with the hyper hypocrisy of buying off Wahhabists while shopping in Paris, recognize the unsustainable trend.
When I was in college, I remember the day when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. It was a hard day for me. Shortly before, I had lived in the country on an exchange program. Sadat died because he made a reasoned choice to reach across the divide to find peace. In another courageous move, just a few years ago, in a little known speech, another Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, said, “is it possible that 1.6 billion Muslims should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is, 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!”
At the moment, we are on the verge of wiping out ISIS militarily. But, it is only the latest brand. We will only fully resolve the thinking that leads to the embrace of dark theology through a rebirth in reason, modeled through courageous leadership.