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Now is not the time to voice moral obtuseness

SHARE Now is not the time to voice moral obtuseness

WASHINGTON — In the wake of a massacre that killed more than 5,000 innocent Americans in a day, one might expect moral clarity. After all, four days after Pearl Harbor, the isolationist America First Committee (which included such well-meaning young people as Gerald Ford and Potter Stewart) formally disbanded. There had been argument and confusion about America's role in the world and the intentions of its enemies. No more.

Similarly, two days after Hitler invaded Poland, it was Neville Chamberlain himself, seduced and misled by Hitler for years, who declared war on Germany.

And yet within days of the World Trade Center massacre, an event of blinding clarity, we are already beginning to hear the voices, prominent voices, of moral obtuseness.

Susan Sontag, a leading leftist intellectual, is appalled at "the self-righteous drivel" that this was an "attack on civilization" rather than on America as "a consequence of specific American alliances and actions. How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?"

What Sontag is implying, but does not quite have the courage to say, is that because of these "alliances and actions," such as the bombing of Iraq, we had it coming. The implication is as disgusting as Jerry Falwell blaming the attack on sexual deviance and abortion, except that Falwell's excrescences appear on loony TV; Sontag's in the New Yorker.

Let us look at those policies. The bombing of Iraq? First, we are not bombing Iraqi civilians. We attack anti-aircraft positions that are trying to shoot down our planes. Why are our planes there? To keep Iraq from projecting its power to reinvade and reattack its neighbors.

Why are we keeping Saddam in his box? Because we know he is developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and we know of what he is capable: He has already gassed 5,000 Kurds, used chemical weapons against Iran and launched missiles into Tehran, Riyadh and Tel Aviv with the explicit aim of murdering as many people as possible.

Or maybe Sontag means American support for Israel. Perhaps she means that America should have abandoned Israel — after it made its astonishingly generous peace offer to the Palestinians (with explicit American assurances to support Israel as it took "risks for peace") and was rewarded with a guerrilla war employing the same terrorist savagery that we witnessed on Sept. 11.

Let us look at American policies. America conducted three wars in the 1990s. The Gulf War saved the Kuwaiti people from Saddam. American intervention in the Balkans saved Bosnia. And then we saved Kosovo from Serbia. What do these three military campaigns have in common? In every one we saved a Muslim people.

And then there was Somalia, a military operation of unadulterated altruism. Its sole purpose was to save the starving people of Somalia. Muslims all.

For such alliances and actions, we get over 5,000 Americans murdered, or, as Sontag puts it, "last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality."

Moral obtuseness is not restricted to intellectuals. I was subjected to a High Holiday sermon by a guest rabbi warning the congregation, exactly seven days after our generation's Pearl Harbor, against "oversimplifying" by dividing the world into "good guys and bad guys."

Oversimplifying? Has there ever been a time when the distinction between good and evil was more clear?

And where are the Muslim clerics — in the United States, Europe and the Middle East — who should be joining together to make that distinction with loud unanimity? Where are their fatwas against suicide murder? Where are the authoritative communal declarations that these crimes are contrary to Islam?

President Bush said so in his visit to Washington's main mosque. But Bush is a Christian. He is a hardly an authority on Islam.

Why did the spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of North America, Muzammil Siddiqi, not say that terrorism is contrary to Islam in his address at the national prayer service at the National Cathedral? His words went out around the world. Yet he was vague and elusive. "But those that lay the plots of evil, for them is a terrible penalty." Very true. But who are the layers of plots of evil? Those who perpetrated the World Trade Center attack? Or America, as thousands of Muslims in the street claim? The imam might have made that clear. He did not.

This is no time for obfuscation. Or for agonized relativism. Or, obscenely, for blaming America first. (The habit dies hard.) This is a time for clarity. At a time like this, those who search for shades of evil, for root causes, for extenuations are, to borrow from Lance Morrow, "too philosophical for decent company."

Washington Post Writers Group