The most important weapons of al-Qaeda and the rest of the Islamist terror network are the suicide bomber and the suicide thinker. The suicide bomber is typically a Muslim fanatic whose mission it is to spread terror; the suicide thinker is typically a Western academic or journalist or politician whose mission it is to destroy the West's will to resist not just terrorism but any ideological challenge at all.
But al-Qaeda didn't create the ugly streak of nihilism and self-loathing that afflicts too many Western intellectuals. Nor, I believe, is it a natural development. It was brought to us by Department V of the KGB, which was charged during the Cold War with conducting memetic warfare that would destroy the will of the West's intelligentsia to resist a Communist takeover. This they did with such magnificent effect that the infection outlasted the Soviet Union itself and remains a pervasive disease of contemporary Western intellectual life.
Consider the following propositions:
There is no truth, only competing agendas.
All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West's history of racism and colonialism.
There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable. [the origin of the left's anti-white Nazism]
Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal.
Poor criminals are entitled to what they take.
Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself.
But "oppressed" people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist's point of view, and make concessions.
These ideas travel under many labels: postmodernism, nihilism, multiculturalism, Third-World-ism, pacifism, "political correctness" to name just a few. It is time to recognize them for what they are, and call them by their right name: suicidalism.
Trace any of these back far enough (e.g. to the period between 1930 and 1950 when Department V was at its most effective) and you'll find a Stalinist at the bottom. Among the more notorious examples were:
Paul de Man - racist and Nazi propagandist turned Stalinist, and fonder of postmodernism;
Jean-Paul Sartre, who described the effects of Stalinism as "humane terror" and helped invent existentialism; and
Paul Baran, who developed the thesis that capitalism depended on the immiseration of the Third World after Marx's immiseration of the proletariat failed to materialize.
Al-Qaeda didn't launch any of these memes into the noosphere, but it relies on them for political cover. They have another effect as well: when Islamists characterize the West as "decadent", and is waiting to collapse in on itself at the touch of jihad, they are describing quite correctly and accurately the effects of Western suicidalism.
Stalinist agitprop created Western suicidalism by successfully building on the Christian idea that self-sacrifice (and even self-loathing) are the primary indicators of virtue.
In this way of thinking, when we surrender our well-being to others we store up grace in Heaven that is far more important than the momentary discomfort of submitting to criminals, predatory governments, and terrorists.
The Communist atheists of Department V understood that Christian self-abnegation tends to inculcate a cult of self-sacrifice even among Westerners who are themselves agnostics or atheists. All the propagandists had to do was make the case that the value of self-abnegation applies to culture as well as individuals. By doing so, they were able to entrench the idea that suicidalists are morally superior to non-suicidalists.
They did this so successfully that at least one major form of Western self-abnegation seems to have developed as a secondary phenomenon: "deep environmentalism". I can't find any sign that this traces back to the usual Stalinist suspects, but it is rather obviously a result of generalizing suicidalism not just to culture but to species.
I think it's important to understand that, although suicidalism builds on some pre-existing pathologies of Western culture, it is not a native or natural development. It is an infection that evildoers and their dupes created and then spread as part of a war against the West; their goal was totalitarian control, and part of their method was to talk the West into slitting its own throat.
Al-Qaeda's goal is the restoration of the Caliphate and the imposition of shari'a law on the West so that the Dar al-Harb is abolished and absorbed into the Dar al-Islam. In other words, totalitarian theocracy. Western suicidalists have transferred their allegience from Communism to Islamofascism without a hitch. They're doing their best to see that we lose - and their best is rather more effective than any bombing campaign.
Thus, to defeat al-Qaeda, stopping the suicide bombers is not sufficient. We must recognize, condemn, and reject the suicide thinkers as well.
UPDATE: Readers who think I'm peddling mere conspiracy theory here should read Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Münzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals for a description of the way KGB disinformation activity, espionage and memetic warfare fused in the 1930s.