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Malevolent Anti-Americanism By: Bruce S. Thornton
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 10, 2002


By September 10 of last year most Americans had probably grown indifferent to the so-called "culture wars," that decades-long debate over the nature, values, and history of Western and American civilization. Issues such as "political correctness" had passed into fodder for sit-com jokes, and the continuing wrangle over school curricula and textbooks no doubt struck many Americans as a Lilliputian spat of concern only to pointy-head academics, pontificating pundits, and blustering talking heads. Yet the attacks on Sptember 11 violently exposed the destructive consequences of the various intellectual and academic movements that had become the received wisdom and dominant orthodoxy of our cultural and political gatekeepers.

For example, the doctrine of cultural relativism — the idea that all cultures are equally valuable, that no basis exists for saying one culture is better than another, and that to say one is better is insensitive ethnocentrism or even racism — on September 11 was exposed as a dangerous lie. The perpetrators of that mass murder were the products of a specific civilization's dysfunctional view of the world, a civilization whose values are opposed to Western ones such as sex equality, liberal democracy, individual autonomy and freedom, and a limited political role for religion. We hear endlessly about the American fear of the "other," but the WTC murderers were the real cultural chauvinists, so fanatically convinced of the rightness of their way of life that they were willing to kill themselves and 3000 innocents, including fellow Muslims — an act sanctioned by numerous verses in the Koran.

The cultural relativists of course stepped forward to assure us that, despite those verses, Islam really is a religion of "peace" and "tolerance," but they neglected to explain that the price of "peace" and "tolerance" is the individual's political and social submission to Islam's religious authority. Apologists also explained that the attackers were in fact deviants who had distorted Islamic values. Perhaps, but judging from the spontaneous demonstrations of joy over the attacks that took place throughout the Arab world, and considering the thousands of madrassas still teaching those same "distortions" with government support, apparently millions of Muslims are deluded about their own culture and religion.

Then we were lectured about the "moderates" in the Islamic world that we should support and encourage rather than reducing to "clash of civilizations" paradigms. Yet no one questioned why these so-called "moderates" continually refuse to abandon their inveterate hatred of Israel and sympathy for terrorism evident in their moral and financial support of Palestinian murderers, and in the inevitable "but" that always follows their perfunctory condemnations of the latest slaughter of the innocents. Yes, there exist Islamic moderates who want their civilization to enter the 21st century, but whether or not Islamic culture will or can adapt to the modern, that is, Western way of secularism and individual freedom is a question ultimately to be answered by Muslims themselves. But the question itself is meaningless without some recognition that the Western way is simply superior in key respects, for it creates the greatest freedom and prosperity for the greatest number of individuals; and that cultures that suppress individual freedom and keep millions of its people in penury aren't just different, but inferior.

Next, September 11 demonstrated the bitter fruit of the doctrine of anti-Americanism rife not just in the Middle East and Third World but among many Europeans and Americans themselves. In the months after the attack numerous American and European intellectuals opined that America had in one way or another "deserved" the attacks, that it was reaping the bitter harvest of its numerous imperialist and racist crimes. This irrational superstition, whose ultimate origins lie in communist propaganda, has become a set of cliches and an unthinking reflex fueled by self-loathing, envy, and resentment. Worse, it has no basis in the facts of history.

The truth is, no society in history wielding the cultural, economic, and military power possessed by the United States has been as restrained in using that power. Even if one accepts the usual anti-American indictment — Chile, Nicaragua, Vietnam — these alleged offenses pale beside the good America has done in the world, and the blood and treasure it has lost in fighting tyrannies like Nazism, Japanese militarism, and communism. We hear much about Vietnam, but the abandonment of our allies there meant that Vietnam today looks more like the starving police state of North Korea than a free and prosperous South Korea. But the real refutation of America's supposed evil is the sheer numbers of immigrants who risk their lives to live among their presumed oppressors.

Particularly revealing, however, was the outburst of anti-Americanism in Europe that followed a brief few weeks of sympathy for our loss. Nations whose toll of colonial oppression and death in the Third World dwarfed our own now began to lecture us on our crimes. Envy, resentment, post-colonial guilt, and pride wounded by the spectacle of a nation of déclassé cast-offs and immigrants dominating the world found expression in stale cliches about oafish American "cowboys" who lacked the Europeans' sophisticated, nuanced understanding of world affairs. What we should have learned from this shameless display is that the old NATO Cold War consensus is irrelevant in a world dominated by American power, and that a morally exhausted Europe is our "friend" as long as it can spend money on lavish social welfare programs rather than on the military muscle that would justify its global pretensions.

The third cultural disease exposed by 9/11 is the therapeutic sentimentalism that compromises our actions and policies. The thought that anybody, even the Al Qaeda psychopaths, might be made to suffer occasioned all manner of anguished hand wringing. The detainees in Cuba — murderers one and all — were fussed over as though they were wayward teenagers caught "experimenting" with drugs. The military action in Afghanistan was hemmed in by demands that no inadvertent deaths occur, something impossible in the "fog" of war. Efforts to protect our citizens against further attack were hamstrung by civil-libertarian fundamentalists who apparently believe any number of American dead is an acceptable price to pay in order to avoid hurting the feelings of an Arab immigrant. A librarian in Boulder who had festooned her library with multicolored plastic penises ordered an American flag taken down lest someone be made "uncomfortable." And everywhere on display was, and still is, our peculiar delusion that peace and order can be created and protected without violence and suffering and the unforeseen, tragic consequences that always attend the use of force.

Finally, and most important, the rot of moral relativism running throughout the intellectual class continues to manifest itself. We were not to blame anyone, as the National Education Association's recent school curricula instructed teachers. We are not to use words like "good" and "evil," those outdated superstitions from our unenlightened past. The President's use of the phrase "axis of evil" to describe three tyrannical, terror-nurturing states aroused all manner of indignation from Eurocrats and liberal pundits, who scoffed at his simplistic and reductive characterization of terror. These were the same people who sneered at Ronald Reagan when he called the Soviet Union an evil empire — to the cheers of millions of oppressed Eastern Europeans who knew exactly what he was talking about. Perhaps the stupidest example of this moral idiocy was the British editor who forbade the use of "terrorist" to describe the murderers, since "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." But after all the spineless tweaking and sophistical nuancing is done, the simple fact remains that murderers of the innocent are evil. A culture that has trouble recognizing that fact is a culture in trouble.

Battling this toxic brew of cultural and moral relativism, therapeutic sentimentalism, and malevolent anti-Americanism is what the culture wars are all about. In the first few months after 9/11 it seemed that the tide had turned against these noxious ideas. Flags were being flown without embarrassment, church pews were more crowded, public recognition of America's unique achievement in giving freedom and prosperity to the greatest number ever of ordinary people was freely celebrated. But since then the old bad habits seem to be creeping back, as evidenced by the dithering and second-guessing over Iraq and its homicidal maniac of a leader. After the sentiment and spectacle of the anniversary ceremonies of 9/11 is done, the question will remain whether or not we have learned enough to make sure 9/11 never happens


Bruce Thornton is the author of Greek Ways and Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide (Encounter Book}. He is 2009-2010 National Fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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