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The Suicide Bomb Morality

By Robert Tracinski

The West's conflict with Islamic terrorism is more than a "clash of civilizations." It is, at root, a clash between two world views and two moral models, a clash much wider and more important than any political conflict.

I was reminded of this by a brilliant observation in a recent column by Charles Krauthammer--an observation far more significant than Krauthammer himself seems prepared to recognize. Writing about the way in which Palestinians have consistently rejected every opportunity for statehood, peace, and prosperity, instead choosing constant warfare and destruction, he concludes: "This embrace of victimhood, of martyrdom, of blood and suffering, is the Palestinian disease."

What Krauthammer doesn't realize is that this worship of suffering is the world's disease, a very old affliction that has evaded our cultural immune system by disguising itself as a morality. That morality is accepted as uncontroversial in today's world, and you hear it, and probably nod in agreement, whenever someone tells you that self-sacrifice is the essence of moral virtue.

But isn't self-sacrifice--or, as Krauthammer puts it, "victimhood, martyrdom, blood and suffering"--the essence of the horrific plight the Palestinians have chosen for themselves? And shouldn't this make us question, at its very roots, the morality of self-sacrifice?

The Palestinians show us a society based on sacrifice in its purest, most fanatical form. It is a society built around a single moral model: the suicide bomber, who is lionized on billboards, on television, in popular songs. And this is not just the propaganda of the corrupt Palestinian rulers. One of the delegates elected to the Palestinian parliament in the populist upsurge for Hamas was Umm Nidal, the "mother of martyrs," who has sent three of her sons to kill themselves in terrorist attacks on Israel, proclaiming that their "sacrifice...makes me happy."

For the great mass of Palestinians this worship of sacrifice is sincere. By rejecting every chance at peace and coexistence with Israel--breaking every truce and turning down every peace offer--they have lost everything and gained nothing. Taking the suicide bomber as their moral model, the Palestinians seek to emulate his fate: in their lust to destroy Israel, they are willing to accept the utter destruction and collapse of their own society.

Look to the other side of the security barrier and you see a very different society. While the Palestinians raise their children on visions of blood and murder, the Israelis are largely preoccupied by the business of producing, creating, making a living. Consider, for example, the vast Gaza greenhouses handed over from the departing Israelis to the Palestinians. In the hands of the society that "made the desert bloom," these greenhouses produced millions of dollars worth of produce. Under Palestinian control, they were looted and their products have literally been left to rot. As with the Cold War examples of East and West Berlin, Gaza and Israel offer side-by-side laboratories for opposing moralities.

The contrast to America--a nation founded on the right to "the pursuit of happiness"--is even more vivid. When Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in 1832, he reported that the moral doctrine of "self-interest properly understood"--not hedonism, but a version of rational, benevolent self-interest--was "universally accepted": "You hear it as much from the poor as from the rich."

The distinctive model for American culture is not the suicide bomber but the "self-made man": the entrepreneur who achieves prosperity by hard work and ingenuity. Implicitly, we recognize that the proper business of life is not sacrifice but achievement. This is the actual code by which most Americans live.

The tragedy is that we don't recognize it.

We are still too morally intimidated by unquestioned traditions, or by the confused invocation of the "sacrifice" of our courageous soldiers--which fails to recognize that it is an act of the most profound self-interest to resist the rule of tyranny and terror. And so we pay lip service to the nobility of sacrifice.

This lip service undercuts our certainty and moral clarity, not only in dealing with terrorism, but also at home. British columnist Janet Daley, for example, worries that the right hasn't come up with a "morally attractive case for capitalism" despite the fact that "it is free markets that have delivered mass prosperity and personal self-fulfillment on a scale unprecedented in human history." But is this really such a mystery, when everyone denounces "selfishness," so that personal prosperity and "self-fulfillment" are viewed as morally unimportant at best and morally suspect at worst?

Only one prominent intellectual in the last century--Ayn Rand, the great intellectual defender of individualism--has been brave enough to name the moral lesson. Rejecting the morality of sacrifice, she declared that "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live," while in her classic novel The Fountainhead, her hero laments that "The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing." Ayn Rand remains a controversial figure, scoffed at by both left and right. But this phrase, "perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing"--could there be a better description of the Palestinians' suicide bomb society?

Look at the horrific plight the Palestinians have chosen, and you can observe the real meaning of a culture of self-sacrifice. Look at America, by comparison, and you can see the life-affirming benevolence of a culture of rational self-interest.

The evidence is out there, and its moral lessons are clear--if only we are brave enough to learn from them.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and

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