Twelve year olds don’t choose to become suicide bombers.
And true believers don’t send children as martyrs in place of themselves. The perpetrators of last week’s vicious attack on a Kurdish wedding in Turkey believe in nothing so much as violence as a means to their own power. It’s a sad sign of the times that we can almost admire the zealots of a few years ago who willingly gave their own lives for their ideals, no matter how convoluted those ideals may have been.
When fanatics eagerly give the last full measure of devotion -- for which Abraham Lincoln praised the Union soldiers who sacrificed their lives at Gettysburg -- we have to ask ourselves if we are prepared to sacrifice as much for our noble values as our enemies readily sacrifice in the name of terror.
But few of us want to sacrifice anything. Some are too invested in their utopian world view, in the belief that all people are essentially good, and that it is our own sins that have driven others to lash out against us. To denounce evil as evil and to take up arms against it would require them to abandon an ideology in which they are far too heavily invested.
Others are convinced that they are surrounded by evil, that all who question their worldview are extremists, and that neighbors of extremists are guilty by association. Such an outlook turns potential allies into enemies and perpetuates senseless violence.
Then there are those who want to wash their hands of any responsibility for the plight of others. They want to withdraw from every field of conflict, circle the wagons, raise the ramparts, turn a blind eye to the barbarians storming the gates. In this they are as deluded as the utopians. Evil will not leave us alone just because we leave it alone. It will always seek us out, not matter how hard we try to hide.
TOO WRONG TO GO RIGHT
What the adherents of all these isms have in common is their conviction that they hold a monopoly on truth, that they alone can claim the moral high ground, that they alone want and know what is best for society. They allow for no debate, no discussion, no possibility that there may be other, legitimate points of view, or that those who dispute them may be sincere in their beliefs. There is no room to seek compromise, since anything short of scorched-earth victory is a deal with the devil.
Consequently, all those within their sphere of influence -- children and, yes, weak-minded adults -- buy wholly into their ideology, if only because they have no opportunity to hear anything else and because they fear the consequences of challenging the party line. All sins are forgiven, when committed in the name of The Truth. All crimes become acts of virtue, when perpetrated against True Evil -- real or imagined.
This is how children grow up to be suicide bombers. They are victims as much as those caught in their blast. And this is how a wedding celebration becomes a military target in an age of unprecedented ideological extremism.
WHO COULD IMAGINE?
How is it possible that anyone, no matter how fervent in his beliefs, could justify the mass murder of innocents at the moment of their greatest joy?
And is it possible that we aren’t all that much different?
How can a common street criminal be transformed into a martyr to justify a relentless campaign of wanton violence? How can a plurality of voters support for the nation’s highest office either the most corrupt candidate in history on one side or an unprincipled boor on the other? How can a social tenet as simultaneously trivial and elemental as separate bathrooms be turned into a battleground issue that overshadows the economy, domestic security, and the war on terror?
“Do not follow a majority to do evil,” warns the verse in Exodus. And the larger the majority, the more difficult it is to find the inner strength to stand apart.
But this is the way of heroes. From Moses to Jeremiah, from Socrates to Louis Pasteur, from Abigail Adams to Susan B. Anthony, from Martin Niemöller to Martin Luther King, Jr., men and women of character and principle have willingly suffered the slings and arrows of popular opinion and abuse of power, holding fast against the storm of ridicule and opposition that often besets those courageous enough to defend authentic but inconvenient truths.
And, indeed, every once in awhile a glimmer of hope shines through the darkness. Just this week, before the international tribunal in The Hague, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi not only confessed to destroying historical shrines in Timbuktu but expressed remorse and begged forgiveness. Never before has an accused Islamist terrorist pled guilty before the ICC.
Nor did he stop there. If it weren’t enough that al-Mahdi left himself open to both a 30-year jail sentence and the ire of his radical Muslim cohorts, he also issued the following repudiation: "I would like to give a piece of advice to all Muslims in the world, not to get involved in the same acts I got involved in, because they are not going to lead to any good for humanity."
If we want to preserve any hope for our children, let us stand tall and firm among the heroes.