- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

The moral justification for the long-awaited Allied attack on the Afghan base of Osama bin Laden is to be found in a passage from the works of an American philosopher, Arthur O. Lovejoy. His words have a particular application to the heated debate over what the United States or any other democracy should do about the bin Laden conspiracy against our Judeo-Christian civilization. Wrote Mr. Lovejoy, author of the philosophic classic, "The Great Chain of Being":

"The conception of freedom is not one which implies the legitimacy and inevitability of its own suicide. It is, on the contrary, a conception which defines the limits of its own applicability; what it implies is that there is one kind of freedom which is inadmissible the freedom to destroy freedom. The defender of freedom of thought and speech is not morally bound to enter the fight with both hands tied behind his back. And those would deny such freedom to others, if they could, have no moral or logical basis for the claim to enjoy the freedom they would deny to others."

We have never faced a more searing dilemma than in the war against terrorism. Dilemma 1: How far can the United States go in its deal-making with and search for Islamic and Arab allies? Dilemma 2: How far can we invade the Bill of Rights in this war against what Professor Michael Ignatieff calls "apocalyptic nihilism"? Negotiations with the bin Laden conspirators are impossible: Their operating code is metapolitical, beyond politics, because, as Mr. Ignatieff put it with a fine irony, "They are seeking the violent transformation of an irremediably sinful and unjust world."

Such ambitions are not confined to the world of Islam. In Albert Camus' play, "Les Justes," a group of Russian terrorists in 1905 are plotting an archduke's assassination. One of the terrorists questions the relationship between the hope of a renewed life through death and assassination. Kaliayev, the man chosen to throw the bomb, responds: "We are killing to build a world in which no one will ever kill. We accept criminality for ourselves in order that the Earth may at last be full of innocent people." One can no more negotiate with Kaliayev than with bin Laden or for that matter with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. But are negotiations any easier with bin Laden's sympathizer states like Egypt or Saudi Arabia whose powerful imams and sheiks fear secular contagion from the Western democracies?

And at home, the livid question: How far may our government go in waging war against the invisible foe? Invasion of privacy, wiretapping, barring suspicious immigrants, sealed court records, widespread surveillance, TV cameras and ID cards everywhere are fears of such steps legitimate? And let's see: Would assassination of Osama bin Laden or any of his associates today be legitimate or would killing them no longer be considered assassination?

There are even more serious dilemmas ahead as we have seen in the superheated exchange last week between two old allies the U.S. and Israel. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned the White House not to "repeat the terrible mistake of 1938, when enlightened European democracies decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia so as to reach a convenient temporary solution." A democracy was sacrificed by Neville Chamberlain to appease the insatiable Adolf Hitler. Mr. Sharon blurted out what must be troubling Israelis after two years of a Palestinian intifada. Nevertheless, a Sharon apology for his remarks followed. But the fear of a Faustian bargain still remains. The fact is that the bin Laden legions have imperiled the existence of two democracies Israel and, lest we forget, Taiwan. And it may delay indefinitely the NATO applications of the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania because Vladimir Putin's Russia has become an essential part of the anti-terrorist coalition.

It is in facing such dilemmas in the days ahead that Mr. Lovejoy's thinking ("There is one kind of freedom which is inadmissible the freedom to destroy freedom") offers a guide to the perplexed. The philosopher's words apply doubly to Israel and Taiwan.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide