Where’s the Terrorists’ Margin?
Among the many comment’s to Andrew’s post on the Ground Zero mosque, commenter mangeek made the following statement, and it’s been rattling around in my head during the intervening days:
Terrorism is the weapon of choice for the marginalized; the cure is tolerance and civil discourse, tempered by strong secular laws that protect us from the criminally deranged.
“The weapon of the marginalized” sounds good, with a buy-the-world-a-Coke insinuation that the West can cure the problem by unmarginalizing the enemy. Mangeek suggests “tolerance and civil discourse.” Part of the rationale for President Bush’s approach to the War on Terror was to bring the Middle East into the democratic fold, creating the circumstances in which its inhabitants would defuse their aggression with the wet handshake of international processes.
But I’m not so sure that terrorism really is the weapon of the marginalized. Does anybody doubt that al Qaeda would attack the West using conventional weapons if it, one, had them and, two, thought it could win? Moreover, do the people backing terrorist organizations really feel marginalized? It’s difficult to believe that Saudi princes walk around gnashing their teeth over their hardship, or that Iranian dictator mullahs feel powerless. I don’t recall an action-drama style speech from Osama bin Laden lamenting his exclusion from a diplomatic dinner party.
To some extent, of course, a statement like mangeek’s implies two groups: the backers of organized terrorism and those who carry out their commands. In that light, it’s clearly in the interest of unmarginalized power brokers, like the late Yasser Arafat, to keep their human arsenal in a state of unrest and for radicals the world over to hammer the drum of disaffection until it’s rattled their followers’ brains to mush.
Allowing that much, however, only proves mangeek’s conclusion faulty, because those with whom we wind up negotiating in civil discourse have reason to maintain the hardships and sense of marginalization of those whom they ostensibly represent. At least Bush’s democracy project had the objective of replacing that system with real representation and broader civic engagement.
If we step back from the objective assessment of motivations and organizational charts — and put aside any wishful pap that eschews such analysis — a moral response emerges from the murk: The terror masters should be marginalized. One cannot discourse with an ideology with pretenses to global rule. (This cuts multiple ways, I should note.) We should not tolerate those who force women to live in walking body bags and put them to death when they’re raped. We should not invite to the table those who speak casually of exterminating the Jews.
The disconcerting realization is that, as a society, we actually get this. Consider the reaction whenever an American subculture comes into public view with women dressed in the style of Little House on the Prairie. Consider that white supremacists are a universally accepted villain for any storyline.
All of our talk about tolerance of the exotic and different, of civil discourse with the marginalized, begins to look like mere cover when we take the resort to terrorism, itself, as evidence of the marginalization. It begins to appear that we are tolerating the intolerable because of the terrorism. Because we’re paralyzed by politically correct bromides and lack the confidence for the only other solutions that remain.
The argument over the Ground Zero mosque lies along this very fault line. There would be no substantial public backlash against a thirteen-story Islamic center in that location were it already in the shadow of a hundred-story testament to the resilience of Western Civilization as expressed by the United States of America. We see the hole that remains in lower Manhattan, and as average as the mosque might be, it towers above inaction.