William Bennett writes a lengthy article today in RealClearPolitics that a grievance culture has taken hold here in the U.S. and in the U.K. He posits that this culture obscures our focus and dilutes our efforts in the war in which we are currently engaged.
A grievance culture has taken hold in the West, both in England and America-and at exactly the wrong time. Where not long after 9/11 we were angry, we now have become sad, or depressed and confused; and too many have replaced our concept of evil with all manner of diagnoses of syndromes and root causes. We are at war, and yet we are indulging a culture of grievance. My friend Debra Burlingame-whose brother, Chick, was the pilot of flight 77 that was hijacked and smashed into the Pentagon-was recently asked if she missed the post-9/11 commonsense. She answered: “Truthfully, what I miss the most is the anger.” I do too.
It is not just the terrorist threat that we have to deal with now, but the grievance culture under it, that has taken such a strong hold in the West. It may, in fact, prove the greater threat because it takes away our greatest protection against terrorism: moral clarity. Where once our law and culture were based on assigning blame on a perpetrator of wrong, and personal responsibility was a commonplace (as well as commonsense), a new psychology has taken hold in Western culture. Where once we punished and fought, we now psychologize and debate the causes of anger and terror. We, to borrow from Shakespeare, have made the wrong medicines of our great revenge.
Bennett may have something here. He continues:
Last month, in the wake of the worst attack in London since the Blitz, the other-wise forceful Prime Minister Tony Blair took a meeting with two dozen leaders of Britain’s Muslim community to “address the root causes of the suicide bombings” that killed over 50 innocent civilians and wounded over 700 more. In an earlier time, perhaps, we would have known who and what was responsible for the death of those Londoners-the evil and barbaric actions of thugs, of terrorists believing in Islamist fascism. But, the so-called “moderate” Muslims who met with Tony Blair had been paying attention to the cultural shifts we have brought upon ourselves, and they played into them.
After all, they too saw responsibility as other than in the evil terrorists. As the Washington Post reported: “the most prominent of Britain’s Muslim moderates — acknowledged strong disagreements among themselves, with the government and with radicals in their community over who or what is ultimately to blame for the attacks.” And, a Muslim member of the House of Lords stated, “many people are confused as to how to deal with [the bombings].”
Can one imagine Winston Churchill entertaining Germans with a list of grievances that led to the Blitz at 10 Downing? Or, Franklin Roosevelt listening to a group of Japanese at 1600 Pennsylvania who wanted to air their reasons for Pearl Harbor? Tony Blair should have thrown these “moderate” leaders who feed this theology and philosophy out on their ears. Unfortunately, however, those leaders are not alone and, to be honest, we too have mollycoddled supposedly “moderate” leaders as well-both at Crawford and in DC, both with members of the Saudi royal family as with members of Muslim so-called civil rights organizations.
Churchill and Roosevelt took the war to the enemy, they didn’t ask their leaders about their grievance-their countries had heard them loudly and clearly enough, through their actions. But, what our countries today do not hear loudly and clearly enough, is the call of the rightness (if not righteousness) of their own cause. We have replaced what Lincoln called our “political religion”-our dedication to knowing the causes of equality and liberty upon which we were founded-with a politics of religion, and race, and nationality, and culture. We have elevated individual grievances, ethnic thumb sucking and hundreds-year-old resentments and envy above our mutual protection and our commonweal, a word you do not hear much anymore.
I couldn’t agree more. Read the whole article. It is very enlightening.
Some days, we hear, the terrorism is caused because we’re “occupying” Iraq; some days it’s because we support Israel (which, until the liberation of Iraq, was the only country in the Middle East where Arab Muslims could vote freely and serve in government). But, there’s a perhaps not-so-obvious problem with this “understanding,” this “sympathy,” and blame-game. We were not “occupying” Iraq on September 11, 2001 (we weren’t even occupying Afghanistan). And Britain has pushed more than any other Western nation for Israeli withdrawal from the lands the Arabs say belong to them. No, it’s not Iraq and it’s not Israel. It’s a corrupt philosophy attached to an evil arm that causes the massive slaughters.
There’s a second problem as well. The so-called grievances of the Muslims are contrasted to nothing-there is no other side of the scale, there is no teaching of what we do right, there is no recogniztion of the wisdom and virtue of our own cause, from our Founding up until today. There is no reality check. One would think Muslims would be at least a little grateful to the countries that have liberated over 50 million of them in the last four years. Or to those same countries (the U.S. and Britain) who, the last seven times they mobilized their militaries, did so on behalf of Muslims. Not so. They are not.
No, this is not a struggle against just any kind of extremism. It is a fight, it is a war-and we know who the enemy is. We should say it. It is Radical Islam. We called the Nazis the German Nazis; and we called the Communists the Soviet Communists. We should call our enemy today by what they are and who they are. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “the corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language.” It is no accident we are seeing less and less support for the war in the most recent polling. We are corrupting not only our war, but our will to fight by corrupting our language about this war.
And this corruption of language and thought has led to the taking too seriously of the “Muslim grievance.” We need to get up off the couch and tell Muslims that whatever pain they feel, it is not from British or U.S. wrongdoing; indeed, ours has been more their liberation and their medicine than their enslavement and affliction.
We have it in our power to breed heroes and statesmen just as we have it in our power to breed terrorists and traitors. We breed by both example and instruction; and just now we need a great re-learning about what we are teaching and tolerating through our national example and instruction, both in how we treat the enemy as well as in how we treat our own philosophies of statecraft and soulcraft. Our only repatriation can come once we take seriously again our self-evident truths, our political religion. In understanding our Constitution and Founding as the basis of our laws Abraham Lincoln put it this way:
As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;–let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap–let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;–let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.
We’ve lost that teaching, that instilling of public faith in our own country and our own cause. We’ve replaced, and indeed denigrated, that extremism, if you will. Now, what Lincoln had in mind is a good deal different from today’s teachings of the feckless thing we’ve replaced history and government with: social studies. Perhaps W.B. Yeats had it right, “The best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Where is Ayn Rand when we need her?