It’s an easy, and not entirely inaccurate, observation to make that an overly latitudinarian and morally relativistic society is at least partially to blame for the bomb attacks in Boston. It’s not entirely accurate, either. In the final analysis, it’s terrorists, and the strictures that motivate them, that are to blame for acts of terror.
More importantly, it’s how a society responds to such attacks that matter and whether that response will be framed by an unchecked barbarous emotion on one extreme, a fanatically tolerant,
multi-culturalist approach on the other or a more pragmatic, realistic one that recognizes the incompatibility of our own culture with that of radical, fundamentalist Islam.
Like any such event, the bombings led to a bout of national self-reproach and second-guessing. Much criticism has centered on President Barack Obama’s apparent oscillation over terminology
— the use of the word “terrorism” and conspicuous non-use of the word “Islamic.”
To be fair, “terrorism” is one of those words that tend to slip the fetters of appropriately restrained use. I use, as reference, the definition once offered by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose credentials as Israeli prime minster on such matters are,
I contend, well-established. He defined terrorism as the “deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends.” Not every act of mass violence is an act of terrorism, as the term ought to be applied. Neither should the bar be set too low on what constitutes “political ends.” Not every crackpot Sirhan Sirhan wanna-be with a personal drug- or disorder-fueled manifesto meets the standard. So terminological prudence in the early days of the situation was entirely called for. I think that we now, however, have enough information at our disposal to begin forming a picture and framing an appropriate reaction.
What should that reaction be? Well, it needs to start with a cold recognition of who and what we as a society are dealing with. America is no longer the nation that not so very long ago rather naively believed terrorism was something that happened on TV in other places — Israel, Belfast, Lebanon or Uganda, or, at nearest, aboard a cruise ship or TWA airliner. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed that paradigm.
Like statecraft in general, the war on terrorism (if, in fact, we remain committed to the fight in more than just a receiving role) requires flexibility. We’re confronted now with the possibility of a new breed of terrorist — the radicalized, but loosely amalgamated, Islamic fundamentalist, the independent jihadist.
It’s immensely difficult to institute preemptive security measures that will prove 100 percent reliable. Probably the most effective pre-emption would be a moderate Muslim voice persuasive enough to dissuade the would-be jihadist, a voice which seems sadly absent. So the U.S. government still needs to develop a coherent policy to effectively deal with the problem. A timely example of what this could look like comes from across the Atlantic.
It was both perverse and oddly poignant the funeral for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was held on the same week as the Boston bombings. As much, probably more, than any contemporary western leader (save perhaps her good friend, Ronald Reagan), Thatcher demonstrated the proper reaction to such acts. Thatcher made it official policy to stare terror, aggression and evil in the face and to counter it with moral certainty and the decisiveness that naturally followed, as she ably demonstrated in regards to the IRA, the Argentine invasion of the Falklands and the Soviet Union. In so doing, she revived a British spirit that had been left for dead in a manner reminiscent of Winston Churchill or Queen Elizabeth I and ultimately prevailed against all three.
A dismissive, self-loathing, ACLU-style fanatical interpretation and misapplication of civil rights based on moral and cultural relativism will not serve our interests. The Boston terrorists might well have acted on their own accord. But the underlying ideology that catalyzed their actions remains a force moved by international impulses, backed by organized elements and certain nation states and, soon, by nuclear, not pressure cooker, bombs.
Attacks like the one in Boston demand an official response. Those in charge of such things can choose to make that response one steeped in politically correct, egalitarian, relativistic terms — like the call for utterly pointless new gun laws following the Sandy Hook massacre. Or, they can choose to recognize and apply, as did Thatcher, cold, hard realities and the existence of moral truths and the imperatives that follow.