By David Brooks, September 7, 2004.
We’ve been forced to witness the massacre of innocents. In New York, Madrid,
Moscow, Tel Aviv, Baghdad and Bali, we have seen thousands of people
destroyed while going about the daily activities of life.
We’ve been forced to endure the massacre of children. Whether it’s teenagers
outside an Israeli disco or students in Beslan, Russia, we’ve seen kids singled
out as special targets.
We should by now have become used to the death cult that is thriving at the
fringes of the Muslim world. This is the cult of people who are proud to declare,
“You love life, but we love death.”
This is the cult that sent waves of defenseless children to be mowed
down on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war, that trains kindergartners to
become bombs, that fetishizes death, that sends people off joyfully to commit
This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically strangles it. The
death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian state. The suicide bombers
have not brought peace to Palestine; they’ve brought reprisals.
The car bombers are not pushing the U.S. out of Iraq; they’re forcing us
to stay longer. The death cult is now strangling the Chechen cause, and will
bring not independence but blood.
But that’s the idea. Because the death cult is not really about the cause it
purports to serve. It’s about the sheer pleasure of killing and dying.
It’s about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness. It’s about
experiencing the total freedom of barbarism – freedom even from human nature,
which says, Love children, and Love life. It’s about the joy of sadism and
We should be used to this pathological mass movement by now. We should be
able to talk about such things.
Yet when you look at the Western reaction to the Beslan massacres, you
see people quick to divert their attention away from the core horror of this act,
as if to say: We don’t want to stare into this abyss.
We don’t want to acknowledge those parts of human nature that were
on display in Beslan. Something here, if thought about too deeply, undermines
the categories we use to live our lives, undermines our faith in the essential
goodness of human beings.
Three years after Sept. 11, too many people have become experts at averting
their eyes. If you look at the editorials and public pronouncements made in
response to Beslan, you see that they glide over the perpetrators of this act and
search for more conventional, more easily comprehensible targets for their rage.
The Boston Globe editorial, which was typical of the American journalistic
response, made two quick references to the barbarity of the terrorists, but then
quickly veered off with long passages condemning Putin and various Russian
The Dutch foreign minister, Bernard Bot, speaking on behalf of the European
Union, declared: “All countries in the world need to work together to prevent
tragedies like this. But we also would like to know from the Russian authorities
how this tragedy could have happened.”
It wasn’t a tragedy. It was a carefully planned mass murder operation. And it
wasn’t Russian authorities who stuffed basketball nets with explosives and shot
children in the back as they tried to run away.
Whatever horrors the Russians have perpetrated upon the Chechens, whatever
their ineptitude in responding to the attack, the essential nature of this act was
in the act itself.
It was the fact that a team of human beings could go into a school, live
with hundreds of children for a few days, look them in the eyes and hear their
cries, and then blow them up.
Dissertations will be written about the euphemisms the media used to describe
these murderers. They were called “separatists” and “hostage-takers.”
Three years after Sept. 11, many are still apparently unable to talk about
this evil. They still try to rationalize terror. What drives the terrorists to do this?
What are they trying to achieve?
They’re still victims of the delusion that Paul Berman diagnosed after Sept. 11:
“It was the belief that, in the modern world, even the enemies of reason cannot
be the enemies of reason. Even the unreasonable must be, in some fashion,
This death cult has no reason and is beyond negotiation. This is what makes it
so frightening. This is what causes so many to engage in a sort of mental
diversion. They don’t want to confront this horror. So they rush off in search of
more comprehensible things to hate.