At a dinner in Ireland recently, I sat opposite an airline pilot, and our conversation turned to the destruction of the World Trade Center. I asked whether he favored armed guards on all passenger flights, and he said he did not, on the grounds that it would only provoke terrorists to even greater violence. I gasped at his reasoning, if that is the right word for it. By comparison, Neville Chamberlain was a warmonger.

He thought that we would never overcome terrorism until we first eliminated its "root causes." When a man talks of root causes, he invariably ascribes the blame to himself, or to someone much like himself. In doing so, he proves not only his own importance in the scheme of things but his great broadmindedness. At least he has not fallen into the vulgar, mean-spirited way of thinking that someone very different from himself—what literary theorists persist in calling "the Other"—might actually be worse than he himself is. This is a thought too horrible for liberals to contemplate.

In the destruction of the World Trade Center, the pilot claimed, the root cause was Israel and the American support for the Zionist state. If only Israel had obeyed all of the United Nations' resolutions, the Twin Towers would still stand. But alas, the wrongs Israel perpetrated in the recent past literally drove the terrorists to hijack the aircraft and crash them into the buildings.

I pointed out that there were a few links missing in his causal chain. Even if every evil act attributed to Israel were unequivocally evil, the sum of harm Israel perpetrated would still be small by comparison with that committed against their own populations by Arab leaders such as Iraq's Saddam Hussein or the late Hafiz Assad of Syria, whose destruction of the town of Hama (possibly using cyanide to kill the inhabitants of apartment buildings) was only one of his many crimes. Yet the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center appeared completely unmoved by such monstrous conduct. Clearly, something other than mere love of justice in the abstract motivated them.

To be fair, the pilot saw my point. But since it was axiomatic to him that America and Western civilization must somehow be to blame for the catastrophic events, he brought up the Bush administration's failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This refusal he exhibited as a specimen of American wrongdoing and as a typical example of the West's selfishness—for which, apparently, the murder of 6,000 was (just) retribution.

It sometimes seems as if a liberal is a person for whom fair-mindedness and self-hatred are synonymous: a person whose masochism is not personal but political.


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