tough choice for civilization,

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Aug. 31, 2003
    Tough choice for civilization,
    By Yehezkel Dror

    It is time to face the fact that the West is not doing enough to cope with the existential challenges posed by mass-murdering terrorism. What is needed is a grand strategy, one that takes into account historic processes as well as the magnitude of the danger.

    Unfortunately, the West lacks what is necessary to develop and implement such a grand strategy. Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975), perhaps the greatest modern historian, throughout his work addressed this lack as causing the decline of civilizations.

    Even more salient is the thesis of the medieval Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who noted that when civilization confronts "nomads," the latter are more likely to win thanks to their collective solidarity and intense religious beliefs as against the weakening self-assurance and lack of determination of long-established societies.

    A study of the vast literature on the rise and decline of states, empires and civilizations reveals a singular factor as especially crucial. In confrontations with barbarism, civilization needs nerve and verve. It must show persistent strength of will and a readiness to kill and be killed when lesser means are inadequate.

    It is the West's inner weakness that makes terrorist attacks at least partly effective. The fanatical threats and aggression by countries such as North Korea find the West unable to protect itself and humanity. Only a willingness to use its superior power will allow the West to confront and eliminate modern barbarism.

    This lack of nerve and verve on the West's part, this inner weaknesses, takes a number of forms:
    "Motivated irrationality." Our hopes and values distort our understanding of the atrocious nature of terrorism. We approach the barbarians with ideas about democratization, equitable settlements of disputes, and, say, reducing poverty. Such an approach may be highly moral, but it is unrealistic and wrong.

    Such Western values, while worthy, cannot be promulgated in the foreseeable future. They are irrelevant to the deep psychological and cultural roots of true believers willing to engage in mass killing.

    We also delude ourselves into thinking that technological shortcuts can provide solutions, making more costly measures superfluous. At first glance it would seems that modern technologies do provide highly developed societies with a military advantage. But in confronting barbarism this is often a delusion.

    Easily available means of mass destruction skillfully used against vulnerable targets provide the barbarians with an advantage. And worse is to come. Biotechnology, for instance, will enable fewer and fewer fanatics to kill more and more innocents.

    While new surveillance and seek-and-destroy technologies are urgently needed, they cannot compensate for a lack of nerve and spirit.
    "Self-binding" or self-shackling, which prevents the adoption of effective countermeasures.

    Self-binding is manifested by laws and ethical norms which, however valid in themselves, endanger more fundamental values. For example, insisting on the right of privacy as against the need to catch mass killers before they can act illustrates the West's inability to set painful but essential value priorities.

    Even more vital is our need to act against "ticking bombs" as well as against bomb factories and bomb designers. To do so we simply must be willing to use whatever is necessary to obtain information in time, thus enabling timely countermeasures.

    But the West's most dangerous weakness is its lack of readiness to sacrifice human lives even when this is essential to saving more lives and protecting core values that make life meaningful.

    This means accepting tragic, large-scale collateral damage the death of innocents if this is unavoidable in order to prevent much more extensive killing. Even harder, it means a readiness to absorb attrition strategies by the barbarians, with them killing a steady stream of Westerners so as to bring about withdrawals.

    THE CHALLENGE posed by barbarians armed with weapons of mass killing is fundamentally not criminal or military but social, cultural and civilizational. The ability of fewer and fewer to kill more and more constitutes a rupture in history, one that has produced a radically new geostrategic reality. Plainly, the barbarians' willingness to kill and be killed provides them with an initial advantage.

    That is why significant changes in Western civilization are essential to cope with this threat and preserve our core values. As Toynbee pointed out, the lack of verve and nerve has been known to prevent the self-transformation that must be undergone if Western civilization is to survive.

    The writer is professor of political science at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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