Four years into our “war on terror,” the Iraqi insurgency is raging, with no apparent end to the new recruits eager to wage jihad against the West. Support for offensive action is fading among a disheartened American public, while the terrorists are growing in numbers and in boldness.
Where have our leaders gone wrong? What kind of leadership failure can demoralize a whole nation of honest, productive citizens, while leaving suicide murderers stirred to righteous action?
The power that inspires righteous action–and which, by its absence, breeds discouragement–is the power of moral idealism. What has brought us to our present state is our leaders’ moral weakness in response to the jihadists’ moral zeal.
Observe that what draws the recruits to terrorist cells is the advancement of their religion. They are fighting to impose the rule of Islam worldwide, whether others agree with its tenets or not. It is no accident that the Koran (or the Bible) is full of calls to inflict violence on the recalcitrant unbeliever. Obedience to God is his highest moral obligation, whether he can be rationally persuaded of this or not. The jihadists’ eagerness to subjugate and kill is not a distortion of religion, but a consistent expression of it. It is an expression of the faith that establishing God’s kingdom on earth is one’s sacred cause–a cause worth dying for and worth killing for.
A twisted moral ideal of this kind must not be tolerated; it must be denounced without compromise and answered by a rational moral ideal proclaimed with equal righteousness. America was founded on the principle of individual rights–the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”–a principle which bars the initiation of force. One cannot properly defend America, or Western civilization more broadly, without acknowledging the basic conflict between faith and reason, force and freedom–without upholding as a moral ideal, not submission to religious authority, but the freedom to live according to one’s own rational convictions and values.
But on the inseparable connection between freedom and reason, our leaders are silent.
Have they at least condemned the jihadists’ evil religious motives, showing some of the moral confidence necessary to defend our lives? Clearly not. Consider that a mere two weeks after Sept. 11, with the ruins of the World Trade Towers still smoldering, our planned Afghanistan campaign, “Operation Infinite Justice,” was renamed to appease Muslims protesting that only Allah can dispense “infinite justice.” Our leaders continue to insist, preposterously, that religion is incidental to the terrorist threat, that the terrorists have “hijacked a great religion,” that America is (at best) neutral on the issue of faith and force.
Unable to defend America intellectually, our leaders are unable to defend her militarily.
Have they asserted that the purpose of our military is not to better the world, but to secure our non-negotiable right to self-defense? No. Our military resources have been squandered, and too many of our brave soldiers sacrificed, in a futile quest to spread “democracy” around the globe. This “Forward Strategy of Freedom” rests on the absurd moral premise that protecting our freedom is legitimate only when we “compassionately” bring voting booths to nations mired in endless ethnic and sectarian conflict.
Have our leaders acted consistently against terrorist regimes? Consider our policy toward Iran, the primary state sponsor of terrorism. Refusing to identify Iran as the fatherland of Islamic totalitarianism, our President beseeched its Mullahs to join our war on terror. And he has consistently answered their chants of “Death to America” and their quest for nuclear weapons with negotiation and spineless diplomacy.
The reason terrorists and their state sponsors are not demoralized is that our leaders have failed to demoralize them. Our leaders’ words and actions have signaled that we are not as morally committed to our lives and freedom as the terrorists are to our destruction.
No one wants to fight and die for a hopeless cause. The jihadists will continue to be emboldened and to attract new recruits until they are convinced their goal is unachievable. They must see that we have the moral confidence to defend our lives–to answer their violence with an overwhelming military response, without pulling punches. They must see us willing to visit such crushing devastation on them that they fear us more than they fear Allah.
Our safety does indeed depend on winning “hearts and minds” among the supporters of totalitarian Islam: their hearts must be made to despair at the futility of their cause, and their minds must be convinced that any threat to our lives and freedom will bring them swift and certain doom.
The ideologues of totalitarian Islam have seized the power of moral idealism in the service of our destruction. It is time we reclaimed that power in defense of our freedom.
Copyright 2005 Ayn Rand Institute. All rights reserved. That the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) has granted permission to Capitalism Magazine to republish this article, does not mean ARI necessarily endorses or agrees with the other content on this website.