HAMLET, the "melancholy Dane" of William Shakespeare’s famous play, was renowned for his self-absorbed indecision. He was a young man plagued with existential questions to which he had few definitive answers. After the murder of his father, the King of Denmark, Hamlet was conflicted about his course of action. Should he attempt to avenge his father? Should he do nothing? Or should he bide his time and wait for future events to suggest the most propitious moment to act? In short, Hamlet was too philosophical for his own good. He was, as the French actor Jean-Louis Barrault said of him, a "hero of unparalleled hesitation."
A similar philosophical indecision grips many of our colleagues on the Left (I am, of course, excluding the unrepentant America-haters on the far Left who are decidedly not frozen by indecision; they are the ideological blood brothers of Osama bin Laden, as dedicated to the destruction of the West as the Saudi exile himself). Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many liberal writers have churned out a steady stream of sanctimonious, mealy-mouthed appeasement masquerading as "thoughtful" analysis. These commentators tell us that the attacks were the result of legitimate cultural grievances. Most importantly, they tell us that we have to understand the "underlying root causes" of terrorism and comprehend the "pain of poverty" that leads to violence.
A clear example of this type of rhetoric was furnished by former Hillary Clinton guru Michael Lerner. Writing in Tikkun magazine, Lerner asserted that, "We may tell ourselves that the current violence has ‘nothing to do’ with the way that we’ve learned to close our ears when told that one out of every three people on this planet does not have enough food ... We may tell ourselves that the suffering of refugees and the oppressed have nothing to do with us ... But we live in one world, increasingly interconnected with everyone, and the forces that lead people to feel outrage, anger and desperation eventually impact on our own daily lives."
This is patent nonsense. Contrary to critics such as Lerner, the Islamic fundamentalists dedicated to destroying the United States are not fighting for the oppressed. They are anything but men ground down by abject poverty. They are anything but individuals without food to eat or shelter over their heads. In fact, many of them come from the elite of Muslim society. Osama bin Laden, for instance, is the multi-millionaire scion of a wealthy Saudi family. Many of his followers, moreover, are well-educated men from the upper rungs of Islamic culture, individuals who have won life’s lottery. Many more are middle class. And many of the financial backers of bin Laden are wealthy Muslims of varying nationalities — Saudis, Algerians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and members of the United Arab Emirates, among others – who want to eradicate Western modernity, not uplift the oppressed of the world.
Other writers suggest that the greatest danger confronting Americans is ignorance of Islam. A columnist for the British journal The Independent makes the case that "ignorance of Islam ... may prove to be the deadliest thing we have to fear." This is equally nonsense. In reality, Islam has little to do with the current crisis, and whether we are well-versed in Islam or ignorant of it is irrelevant. This isn’t a time to bury our noses in the Koran in an attempt to "understand" the intricacies of Islamic theology; it isn’t a time to delve into the mystical epiphanies of Sufism; nor is it a time to ponder over the flowery prose of Omar Khayyam’s The Rubaiyat. Such gestures will amount to nil when the terrorists unleash against us the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons they are rushing to get hold of. It is a time for moral clarity. We are being attacked by an enemy that wants to kill us — by whatever means necessary.
I am not, of course, suggesting that we are in a war with Islam. Quite the contrary. Many Muslim states are just as fearful of bin Laden and his fanatical followers as we are. And when hostilities commence, we will undoubtedly receive help from at least some of these states (even if much of it is covert). No, the enemies — those dedicated to our destruction — are Osama bin Laden and others like him (such as the Taliban), who use a perverted and fanatical form of Islam, called Wahhabism, to further their twisted political and ideological ends. They are motivated by a rabid hatred of the West, especially America, which they characterize as the "Great Satan." It is a hatred that directs them to murder men, women, and children. It is a hatred that burns so hotly — so incandescently — that suicide attacks are a legitimate form of warfare, and teaching young children that it is glorious to seek a martyr’s death is a legitimate form of socialization. That’s what we need to understand. This is a global culture war that pits Western values — of openness, individuality, democracy, and tolerance — against the values of an essentially nihilistic mindset that respects terror, force, and intimidation.
It is a culture war in the fullest sense of the term. Bin Laden is motivated by hate, fear, and humiliation. He hates the West, especially America, for its success, its wealth, and its values, and views terrorizing America as a religious obligation, a point he made clear in a speech he gave in 1996. He fears the West because he views Western values and ideals as dangerous and polluting to his version of Islam. In the same 1996 speech, he said "after the end of the Cold War, America escalated its campaign against the Muslim world in its entirety, aiming to get rid of Islam itself." And, perhaps most importantly, he feels humiliated by the West. As Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, contends in his article "The Roots of Muslim Rage," many of the Muslim militants, bin Laden among them, are driven by a "feeling of humiliation — a growing awareness, among the heirs of an old, proud, and long dominant civilization, of having been overtaken, overborne, and overwhelmed by those whom they regarded as their inferiors."
In order to prevail in this war—and it is indeed a war—we must comprehend these basic facts. And, unlike the Prince of Denmark, we must be decisive. We must not let existential thoughts — of root causes and the like — cloud our judgment. We must see the enemy for what it is: A group of fanatics dedicated to the West’s destruction, to our destruction. Indeed, if new reports about bin Laden’s attempt to acquire components for weapons of mass destruction from Russian mobsters is true, the urgency to confront Osama bin Laden and his ilk — not "understand" them — is greater than ever before.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragedy; this chapter of American history need not be—if we follow the right course of action and don’t succumb to paralyzing rationalizations.