Monday, August 16, 2004

Men of Faith

Based on this review, Sam Harris' new book, "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" has some shortcomings. But as a secular view of the modern world scene, it also seems to scream out some truths many liberal secularists are unwilling to confront:

Writers have been arraigning religion for 300 years, and much of this has been said already. Never before, however, have weapons of mass destruction been so available. For Harris, the apocalypse arrived on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, which he believes commentators misunderstood. "The evil that has finally reached our shores is not merely the evil of terrorism. It is the evil of religious faith at the moment of its political ascendancy."

The point for Harris is that religious people mean exactly what they say, and this does not bode well for the rest of us. Curiously, principles of faith are often discounted by political observers, who ascribe the deeds of religious people to any motive but religion itself. The rebellions of fundamentalist Christians are often treated as reactions of the disenfranchised. Islam-inspired terrorist groups are seen as acting out of political grievance. Harris takes fundamentalists at their word. "The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were ... men of faith -- perfect faith, as it turns out -- and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be."

So if the whole Islamist assault on all things Western or Jewish is not a reverse crusade, is not a religion-driven war of destruction, why are there no Palestinian Christian suicide bombers? The late literary critic and "civilizational critic" Edward Said, an Anglican Palestinian from Jerusalem, was a vitriolic opponent of almost all American Middle Eastern policies. He wrote eloquently of the daily sufferings of average Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Yet he held no truck with jihadism or "martyrdom operations."

Christians, statistically, ought to account for about 8 percent of Palestinian suicide bombers from the West Bank. Where are they? They suffer just as much from the Israeli occupation. Many, like Said, have tried to explain to the West the motives that drive Palestinians to violence. Yet they do not themselves strap on dynamite and head for the checkpoints. Nor do they hijack aircraft and plow them into skyscrapers.