Forgetfulness and Denial

Forgetfulness and Denial


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 theevidence of
their senses in order to bolster the ideology of their own pet

“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 dayto make excuses for precisely the kind of horror that was
enacted in Fallujah. Eachtime 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. Theyare 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

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 asit 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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