The monstrous attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 shocked, saddened, and angered all Americans as well as the rest of the Western world.
Some causes of this tragedy have already been identified: poor intelligence; inadequate airport and airplane security; and, most important, the weakness of the U. S. government, which has done nothing to punish those countries that have fostered terrorism over the past two decades.
However, there has been an eerie silence regarding the most fundamental cause of the attack: the ideas of the terrorists themselves. This is due largely to the popular doctrine of "multiculturalism," which asserts that all cultures are equal and none may criticize another. But the terrorists' acts cannot be understood without grasping at least two fundamental premises of their avowed philosophic base: Islam.
First, in Islamic philosophy it is a moral duty and a moral virtue to kill "infidels"--those who do not accept Islam. The Koran is replete with such commandments as: "fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them . . . those who reject our signs we shall soon cast into the fire . . . those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads . . . as to the deviators, they are the fuel of hell." This is not to say all Muslims agree with this idea, but the terrorists take these teachings of the Koran seriously and literally. In his "Declaration of War against the Americans," Osama bin Laden repeatedly cites religious texts in addition to the Koran to justify his holy war. He especially favors martyrdom and boasts that Islamic youths "love death as you [the Americans] love life." The highest level of paradise, he claims, is reserved for those who die in battle. The young terrorists, he says, "have no intention except to enter paradise by killing you." Islam may oppose suicide, but it glorifies dying in battle, which is how the terrorists view their acts.
Second, Islam, unlike Christianity (since the Renaissance and Thomas Aquinas), has no respect for reason as a means of gaining knowledge or guiding actions. Islam advocates total domination of every sphere of life by religion, including the legal system, politics, economics, and family life. The individual is not supposed to think independently but to selflessly subordinate himself to religious dogma. The word "Islam" means literally: submission. The Koran states that knowledge comes from revelation, not thinking. The ideal Islamic society is a theocracy (religious dictatorship) run primarily by clerics. We have seen this before in the West--it was called the Dark Ages.
These two Islamic ideas together easily lead to religious fanaticism. The fanatic demands unquestioning obedience based on faith and rejects any attempt to question religious dogma. The fanatic cannot be reasoned with, because he rejects reason totally. The fanatic cannot be persuaded that his views should be modified on the grounds that they are inimical to life, because life on earth is not important to him. Although there are other possible interpretations of Islam, the terrorist fanatics are consistent and uncompromising advocates of its doctrines.
It is true that many Muslims who live in the West reject religious fanaticism and are law-abiding and even loyal Americans, but this is because they have accepted some Western values, including respect for reason and individual rights and the need for a separation between church and state. Many Muslims left the Mid-East specifically to escape theocracy and its consequences--especially the lack of freedom.
The terrorists' attack on the World Trade Center vividly betrays their motivation. This was not just an assault on America--which they view as the embodiment of Satan--or on capitalism, although it was both of these. At the deepest level it was an assault on life itself. The World Trade Center symbolized the principle that man can, with reason as his guide and individual rights as his protection, live successfully on earth by producing the material values his life requires. It represented the antithesis of the anti-life, anti-this-earth philosophy of the religious fanatics who worship death and the afterlife.
The only proper response to people who have declared war on life and happiness--and everything that makes them possible--is to give them what they want: death--and to recognize that this is not just a war of weapons but a war of ideas. Ultimately, our biggest danger is not terrorist attacks but attacks of moral self-doubt--by ourselves. We must proclaim loudly and with moral certainty the values we stand for: reason, rights, freedom, material prosperity, and personal happiness on this earth.
Edwin A. Locke, a Professor Emeritus of management at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
Death to Theocracy
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