TCS Daily

Forgetfulness and Denial

By Lee Harris - April 6, 2004 12:00 AM

In my book, Civilization and Its Enemies, I wrote that the West is suffering from forgetfulness. After reading and listening to some of the responses from the Right to Fallujah, I am inclined to believe that I was being an optimist in my assessment. The problem, it is beginning to appear, is not forgetfulness, but denial. It is not that we in the West have forgotten what our enemy is like; it is that we refuse to see what he is like even when it is being shown right before our eyes, as was the case with the atrocities in Fallujah.

Just as the editorial board of The New York Times, on the second anniversary of 9/11, wanted to persuade us that 9/11 was simply a fluke, unlikely to happen again, so many on those on the opposite side of the political spectrum have wanted to persuade us that Fallujah was a similar fluke. Just as the left wants us to think that 9/11 tells us nothing about the nature of the enemy we are facing, so now the right wants us to think the exact same thing about Fallujah. For both parties, it has become politically necessary to deny the evidence of their senses in order to bolster the ideology of their own pet fantasies.

"Fallujah was contrived. It was all the fault of the cameramen. It was a cunning tactic used in the hope of causing reprisals."

It is not as if the savagery so endemic to the Arab world needs new apologists; the Left, all around the world, have been working night and day to make excuses for precisely the kind of horror that was enacted in Fallujah. Each time a Palestinian elects to martyr himself in the name of Allah and to murder innocent Israelis in the process, there is someone to tell us that this is the only way that the Palestinians can express their desperation -- though oddly enough no other desperate group, such as the Armenians or the Jews, has ever chosen to express their desperation by encouraging their children to blow themselves up.

The apologists of the Left argue that 9/11 is a natural response to the wickedness of the West. The apologists of the Right argue that Fallujah is a response to the wickedness of Saddam Hussein. On both readings, neither event is seen as evidence of a profound civilizational chasm between us and them -- a chasm so wide and deep that it will inevitably swallow even the best-intentioned efforts to bridge it.

Both sides of the political spectrum today have developed cottage industries designed to minimize the crisis that we are facing, and to minimize it by denying the plain and self-evident fact that we in the West can no longer even imagine doing what the men and boys of the Arab world dream of doing. 9/11, the suicide bombings, Fallujah -- these are not flukes or isolated events. They are the sordid hopes and aspirations of literally millions of young Muslims around the world.

"Only four men were killed in Fallujah." What is so significant about the death of four men?

In reading these words I was reminded of an article written by Father Andrew Greeley after 9/11. Only two thousand people died on 9/11, he said. What is that compared to the forty thousand Americans who are killed each year on our highways? We accept those deaths as a matter of routine. Why not these two thousand? In a couple of years, he wrote, who will really remember them?

In the case of Fallujah, the passage of years was unnecessary in the minds of many on the Right. A few hours seemed to do the trick.

And so, on both Right and Left, there are astute minds always ready to deny that the Enemy exists, always prepared to minimize his cruelty and his utter indifference to human life, always quick to explain away acts of the most horrendous savagery, always willing to sacrifice judgment in the name of party line.

Our collective refusal to face up to the nature of our enemy imperils the future of the civilization that it has taken centuries upon centuries to achieve, and those who contribute to this refusal by minimizing the brutality and ruthlessness of Fallujah are acting no different from those who minimize the brutality and ruthlessness of 9/11.

The American obsession with putting partisan politics above all else is robbing us of the only thing that can save us: the will to see the world as it is, and not as we wish it to be.

Lee Harris recently wrote for TCS about The Lesson of Fallujah. He is author of Civilization and Its Enemies.


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