Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban supporters in Afghanistan are avowed enemies of the United States of America. They hate our ideals of freedom with a passion.
They hate our freedom of speech and press. They hate our freedom of religious expression (or lack of the latter). They hate our tradition of individualism. They hate our pursuit of personal happiness (whether material or spiritual). They hate our history of subordinating the State to the citizens of this country. They hate our notion that all people are equal before the law.
Destroying the World Trade Centers killed thousands of people, yes. It also served as a symbolic assault on the foundations of free enterprise embodied in the best of those who made the WTC home for their businesses.
Bin Laden and his cohorts have been transformed from obscure thugs and elevated into our favorite boogeymen. Death is apparently what they "value." They especially seek to snuff out the lives of their enemies, of course, but (many of them, at least) are unafraid to enter that blank door to oblivion themselves.
Few in this country would be loath to deny them that latter fate. If they want to die and frolic amongst the virgins, then, by golly, let's oblige them...
The destructiveness and evil of Bin Laden and the Taliban are hardly in dispute in the Western world. The visceral hatred evinced by Americans against our enemies is totally and completely justified. The irony is that the vast majority of those who rightfully condemn these people and their actions are -- on a very fundamental level -- in agreement with the principles avowed by these thugs and criminals. Very few citizens are willing to denounce the underlying ideas that animate these latest adversaries of the United States.
There are any number of reasons for this. Perhaps, though, a contributing factor to this reluctance on the part of Americans to confront directly the ultimate source of the Taliban's transgressions is the fact that looking closely at the reality of who these people are would necessitate uncovering uncomfortable truths about the nature of our own society.
The Taliban offer Americans a mirror. The vision reflected back might be distorted and incomplete, but, nevertheless, that image is frighteningly recognizable as an echo of what our nation has become. Given the frenzy animating most people in this undeclared war, it is little wonder that most folks are loath to seize this opportunity for self-examination.
Many readers may be aghast at any suggestion that parallels exist between those we are relentlessly bombing and Americans who are suffering the aftermath of multiple terrorist strikes. If we dig deep beneath superficial differences, however, and focus on what -- at root -- drives both the terrorists and those who support our current political policies and laws, we will -- if we are honest and courageous-- acknowledge how far our culture has fallen.
Consider a few examples.
Collectivism does not become respectable merely because it is homegrown.
Am I being unfair -- too harsh -- in daring to compare the beliefs and actions of the Taliban to what is happening in the United States? Am I forgetting that what Americans believe and do is miles apart from what occurred in Afghanistan?
No. Not at all. There definitely and most decidedly is a difference in degree between the relatively pleasant conditions in this country and in the nation we continue to bomb. But...
As Ayn Rand said:
What is good and what is evil in the realm of politics was identified centuries ago. Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues in this country implemented those ideas in our Declaration of Independence and in the basics of our Constitution. Despite inconsistencies in both practice and laws, these men knew what the essence of good government meant. Jefferson stated it succinctly when he said, "...a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government..." (First inaugural address, March 4,1801.)
In early Nineteenth-Century France, Frederic Bastiat expressed similar principles in The Law (1850) and other writings. The law can legitimately "...do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties..."
Despite the perversions of this idea perpetrated by those in power, the idea that no one has a right to initiate direct or indirect violence against a peaceful neighbor is hardly a closely-guarded secret. How many individuals can honestly state that they are ignorant of this knowledge? If a person can so declare, then he yet has time to correct his misguided beliefs and actions. If not, well...
Many of those who support conscription, a national identification card, secret evidence and trials, warrantless searches, the Drug War, victim disarmament laws, and other, more egregious violations of peaceful behavior can only hold to their anti-liberty positions by shutting down their minds and relying, not on evidence, but on their emotional reactions to the events transpiring around them. Their suppression of conscious awareness of what freedom means and the consequences of what they say and do, does not excuse these "average Joes" (let alone their cultural and political leaders) from being held responsible for their transgressions.
If they will not acknowledge the destructive consequences of their ideas, then others must.
Our society clings to principles of social interaction and law that undercut the very things citizens say they support, i.e., freedom, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. In a culture in which the claim of "well, that's my opinion" is supposed to trump facts and logic, in which "feelings" excuse the most heinous of abuses, in which mysticism is held in higher regard than objectivity, it is difficult to avoid certain general, unflattering conclusions about the warping that has distorted the original American spirit.
Yes, there is a spectrum of violations -- a continuum of evil actions -- that must be taken into account in judging any particular person. As Rand said:
That said, it is nevertheless true that both the Taliban and the people and government of the United States share identical premises: that it is proper and moral to force -- rather than to persuade -- others to do what you want them to do. Yes, the leash held by the Taliban was short and tight while the leash held by the American State is long and loose.
But both are nooses draped around the necks of the citizens. Our own leaders are tightening that rope with every new policy or law they implement to deal with real or imagined terrorists.
It's long past due for Americans to cease their self-delusions and to face the stark reality of what they advocate and what our nation has or may become. The majority of the citizens in this country are not monsters, but they have -- implicitly or explicitly -- adopted and accepted monstrous ideas. The nasty image of humanity revealed by the looking glass held in the hands of the Taliban should clue Americans that the distance between them and their enemies is not as great as they would like to believe.
As Walt Kelly said (1971) in his comic strip, "Pogo," "We have met the enemy and he is us."