16 May 2005

Clarity for Christians and Liberals

Some Americans who grasp the threat to democracy and liberalism posed by Islamic imperialism have begun to worry that liberals are an ideological fifth column. Boston College's Dennis Hale offers hope:
...For the generation that learned the distorted lessons of the Sixties and Seventies, the events that have occurred in the past decade, and especially in the past few years, do not make any sense, and for that reason can not have happened. From the collapse of the Soviet Union to the rise of radical Islam, the whole decade has been a frontal assault on the core assumptions of contemporary progressives. Leon Weiseltier noted in The New Republic last year that in the obscenely inappropriate response of the "cultural left" to the destruction of the World Trade Center - for example, the infamous remark that Ground Zero was "the greatest work of art in the world today" - you could "hear the sound of frameworks exploding". The conventional frames of reference by which we all interpret the world had, for most liberals, become so divorced from reality that the only way to respond to the destruction of the World Trade Center was to pretend that something else entirely had taken place there.

Unfortunately, this is not just a habit of the hard Left. Mainstream Christian leaders are extremely reluctant to say, for example, that the World Trade Center towers were "destroyed". This would naturally raise the question of who destroyed them, which would lead to the even more difficult question of how to defend ourselves. This is why so many sincere and decent liberals, and not just Christians, will unconsciously prefer the passive tense when talking about what happened on September 11, 2001. What happened on that day will be described as a "tragedy". The towers "came down", or they "collapsed". When decent and intelligent people will not see what is happening right before their eyes, on live television, it must be because they are trying very hard not to think. And we can easily guess what it is they are trying very hard not to think about.

They are trying very hard not to think that this time America might be right, that their own country might be the victim rather than the aggressor, that our own civilization might actually be better than the one that has vowed to destroy it, above all that we might have the right to defend ourselves, even with force -- even if, tragically, our doing so will put the lives of innocent people at risk. Because if they were to concede that even for a moment, much of what they believe about the political world would unravel, and they would find themselves alone in cosmos, staring into the face of chaos. How much easier to see what happened on 9/11 as one more occasion to demand that Americans repent the sins of power and prosperity.
If I am right in this analysis, then dispelling liberalism's moral confusion about modern terrorism, in the Middle East and around the world, is the only way to prevent modern liberalism from committing suicide. Everything that Christian and secular liberals claim to cherish is anathema to the Islamist enemies of Israel and America: civil liberties, multiculturalism and tolerance, religious freedom and the separation of church and state, the equality of women, civil rights for gays, collective bargaining, conservation of natural resources - everything liberalism has fought for since the turn of the 20th century is slated for extermination in the world-wide Islamic state that is the demented fantasy of Al-Queda, Hamas, and all their wretched kin. But having lost the will to defend Israel (the only country in the Middle East where these goals are a reality), or to defend Christianity (whose vision of the equal dignity of all men is the forgotten first principle of modern liberalism), or to defend America (the nation that brought the light of liberty into the modern world) - could it be that liberals have even lost the will to defend liberalism itself?
The antidote to moral confusion is patient and persistent conversation, in churches and temples, in schools, in letters to the editor, in a thousand back-fence and kitchen table conversations - in all those places where opinion is shaped in a free country. Liberals say they believe in many good things, such as peace, justice, and human rights, and we can take them at their word. What they need to learn is that the protection of peace and justice requires the thoughtful and principled defense of America and Israel - two nations whose peoples are locked in a battle with the worst threat to liberty since the days of Hitler and Stalin.

Dennis Hale
Department of Political Science, Boston College
Director, Episcopal-Jewish Alliance for Israel
Speech delivered at Harvard University for the David Project
March 13, 2003