Six years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we continue to hunt for those whose blunders let them happen. The latest addition to earlier investigations such as The 9/11 Commission Report and televisions Path to 9/11 is the recently released CIA report detailing the agencys mistakes before the attacks. As with the earlier reports, this latest exposé of error and incompetence has prompted demands for scapegoats. Blaming some government employees might make us feel better, and of course we should identify blunders to avoid in the future. But punishing a few bureaucrats wont do anything to correct the two larger, cultural dysfunctionsmulticulturalism and the therapeutic sensibilitythat leave us vulnerable to Islamic terror.
Lets start with the ideology of multiculturalism, which has become pervasive, from university and grade-school curricula to Disney cartoons and the mainstream media. Dont believe the spin that multiculturalism just recognizes the contributions of other cultures and ethnic minorities; the West has been doing that since Herodotus wrote admiringly about Egypt in 450 BC. In fact, multiculturalism attacks the West as uniquely oppressive and destructive, all the while idealizing the non-Western Other as more authentically human and humane, more in tune with nature, more communal, and less materialistic than all those repressed Westerners enslaved to technology and the cash nexus.
Even a cursory survey of world history explodes these romantic clichés and noble-savage fantasies. The Wests sins have been the sins of humanity everywhere. But the goods of the Westpolitical freedom, consensual government, human rights, rationalism, and respect for the individual, to name a feware unique to the West and account for its success. Just ask the millions of non-Western Others who every year risk their lives to migrate to Europe and America, even as virtually nobody goes in the other direction.
Indeed, the ignorance of history makes multiculturalism possible. People who have never learned about the uniqueness of ancient Greece will make a bestseller out of a book like Jared Diamonds Guns, Germs, and Steel, which argues that the Wests ascendancy is an accident of geography and the distribution of plant and animal species. Such people wont think to ask why the Greeks flourished, inventing consensual government and political freedom, when they shared the same climate, plants, and animals as the Egyptians and Persians.
In the post-9/11 context, and before it, multiculturalism predisposed many in the West to look on Muslims primarily as fascinating Others, victimized by Western racism, imperialism, and colonialism. We rationalize Islamic terror and place the blame for it elsewhereon ourselves. We saw such self-flagellation in the days after 9/11, when numerous Western intellectuals, most notoriously exUniversity of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, blamed the terrorist attacks on American crimes and rationalized 9/11 as the justice of roosting chickens, as Churchills speech was titled.
The therapeutic sensibility that now dominates our public thinking reinforces this tendency to excuse Islamic terror. Unlike the old tragic vision of the classical West, which saw human suffering as the consequence of an imperfect human nature and our own bad choices, the therapeutic sensibility sees suffering as a temporary glitch caused by unjust social and economic structures. Evil is just a superstition, for peoples environments, not their own choices, cause destructive actions. The terrorists whom the unenlightened call evil, then, are themselves victims; we should assist them in reforming their unjust environments. Meanwhile, we ignore the numerous Islamists, from Sayyid Qutb to Osama bin Laden, who tell us very plainly why they want to destroy us: because we are infidels who must convert to Islam, live in submission to it, or die.
Such hypersensitivity compromises our fight against Islamic radicalism in a thousand ways, ranging from self-censorshipfor example, the Washington Posts recent refusal to run an innocuous installment of Berke Breatheds comic strip Opus for fear of offending Muslimsto politically correct warfare that refuses to accept the brutality, destruction, and death that have always been the cargo of war. We have seen such self-defeating behavior repeatedly in Iraq, where the Armys rules of engagement have made U.S. forces hesitant to fire on mosques even though terrorists frequently use minarets as firing platforms. To the extent that we remain unable to recognize both the precious goods of our own culture and the destructive dysfunctions of the enemys, we will continue to fight at a disadvantage. And 9/11 will be not just a bad memory of our past, but also the harbinger of our future.