Untangling all the strands of the Boston Marathon Terrorist Attack will take enormous effort and time, long past the patience of the American public to follow the full-fledged autopsy.
But one important element needs the attention of U.S. intellectuals who have largely abdicated their role. It is a discussion of the failure to meet the new totalitarianism of the 21st century after the long and often bloody struggle against the twin despotisms of the 20th century, Communism and Fascism.
Those successful outcomes required a theoretical skeleton and the struggle against a new onset of totalitarian violence will not be met successfully without a similar effort in the world of ideas.
Just as Americans on the left were often seduced by Soviet Communist protestations that it was dedicated to a glorious future of equality and rationality – V.I. Lenin called them “useful idiots” – a similar flirtation goes on today. Just as other Americans, often in high places, were initially infatuated with Fascism’s “efficiency” – Italy’s Benito Mussolini, after all it was said made the trains run on time and Germany’s Adolph Hitler built autobahns – a similar inability to cope with rising worldwide Islamicist terrorist irrational rationale exists today.
The Abrahamic legendary origins of the three largest monotheistic religions often are used to blind Western and Muslim intellectuals to the strain of totalitarianism that exists and often dominates Muslim religious society. Attempts to come to terms with this intellectual problem after the onset of terrorism on American soil on 9/11 have been blocked.
Often the refusal to examine these very real intellectual issues is the result of political correctness – the belief that criticism of some of the basic tenets of traditional Islam are in themselves simply prejudice and a source of anti-Muslim persecution.
So-called “Islamophobia” has become a slogan to be thrown in the face of anyone expressing concern and alarm at the refusal of many if not most Muslim organizations in the U.S. and worldwide to confront the problem of the religious origins of Islamic radicalism. That includes Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, perhaps the world’s oldest existing university and long considered the center of Islamic and particular Sunni culture, which often spews out hatred and intolerance, along with the hundreds of preachers of hatred and violence in Muslim mosques and on Arab TV and radio.
While it can be argued, probably accurately, that American security organs have been remarkably successful in countering new terrorist threats since 9/11, the Boston Marathon Attack apparently opens a new era for such disasters. [One of the intellectual confusions is to call it “tragedy”; it was not a scenario in the traditional sense of an uncontrollable event with a dreadful ending.]
To maintain a vibrant and open American society – whose demise is the ultimate objective of the terrorists – has always presented a dichotomy, the relative defenselessness of such an open society against dedicated violence.
The threat has now taken on new dimensions. For now that there is the suggestion of lower intensity attacks against the almost limitless targets of large gatherings in the U.S., everything from sports events to gatherings for commerce. Whether the attackers be extensions of what looks to be the still metastasizing original Al Qaida organization or the product of “lone wolves” is only marginally important.
When after 9/11, Amb. Jeane Kirpatrick and a group of her old friends of the Congress of Cultural Freedom and such anti-Communist intellectual organizations tried to organize a similar effort to combat Muslim extremism at The Pentagon, they were blocked. Bureaucratic scuffling had as much to do with the demise of the effort as did the failure by most observers to recognize the deep politico-psychological currents that underpinned the violence.
Counterintuitively, it had been among the American military in postwar Germany where the first organized efforts at redemocratizing the former Nazi society were to begin. Now as then, the State Dept. and political leadership is slow to recognize the problem and even slower to know how to deal with the world of ideas.
When Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 tried to reopen an old fundamental dialogue between Byzantium Christians and Muslims, he was denounced in the West as well as among Islamic critics. And, in fact, the Vatican made an object apology for what could only have been interpreted in more rational circles as an attempt to open the needed debate.
He quoted from exchanges written in 1391, views of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, one of the last Christian rulers before the fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Empire. It referred to such issues as forced conversion, holy war, and the relationship between faith and reason. Surely those are concerns that must be addressed in a period when, again, as in the past, in the name of Islam murderers have taken up the sword against peaceful societies in the West and, indeed, against fellow Muslims who seek accommodation with modernism and tolerance.
Even worse, President Obama and his coterie of friends and advisers on Islam and the Middle East are among the worst offenders in their failure to recognize the shading off of many common Muslim concepts into totalitarian dedication and terrorism.
The President’s 2009 speeches at Istanbul and Cairo, while ostensibly meant as outreach to the Arab and Muslim world, were varnished with false historical analogy and improvident appeals. The growing upheavals in the Arab world which have followed, to some extent as a result of the Obama Administration’s strategies of retreat and appeasement, are proof of the inadequacy of this approach.
“The Arab Spring” is rapidly turning into the rout of the modernist forces in the face of the new totalitarianism.
The abandonment, after horrendous sacrifice, of U.S. influence in Iraq, and the threat of a similar precipitous withdrawal in Afghanistan is undermining any effort to address the real issues between modern society and these antediluvians. The failure, for example, to work out a status of forces agreement for a continued modest American military presence in Iraq absent direct White House engagement was inexcusable and has sabotaged American efforts to influence events in Persian Gulf.
The now totally failed strategy loaded with corruption and bankruptcy to stampede the traditionally low-cost energy American economy into so-called high-cost alternative fuels before their marketable time has weakened our constant bargaining against the stranglehold of Mideast producers on fossil fuels.
Ironically, and despite the worst efforts of the administration, the shale gas revolution is breaking that hold – with unforeseen consequences we may yet find difficult to accommodate. The U.S., again despite the Administration’s efforts to boost fuel prices to force the transition to still largely untested alternate energy sources, is moving into self-sufficiency in lower cost, less polluting gas consumption through technological developments. Luckily, it was beyond the control of the White House and such mad “scientific” high-cost energy advocates as former Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu.
Eventually, that will dry up some of the vast surpluses in both the Arab countries and Iran which have helped fund terrorism, although as the Boston Marathon Attack proved, low-cost terrorism is now likely to become the fashion of the day.
A frank and open discussion, hopefully with the participation of a growing number of well-meaning Muslim believers, is as necessary to face the new era of low-cost, low-level terrorism as the security apparatus of government needed to avoid actual incidents. And the effort cannot be postponed.