- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

When the Islamist terrorists, in their incomprehensible barbarity, slaughtered hundreds of little Russian schoolchildren in the city of Beslan, they may have inadvertently aroused the civilized world from its current lethargy and denial. One would have thought that Osama bin Laden’s decade-long trail of mass murder and mayhem throughout the four corners of the world would have convinced even the indolent and myopic that civilization is in a war to the death with Islamist terrorism. But even the unspeakable horrors of September 11 have been rationalized away by many Muslims and Europeans, in particular — and by a disturbing number of Americans.

Finally, if only incipiently, for most people the truth is becoming impossible to deny. Decent Muslims, both in the Middle East and in the West, have begun to quietly — but publicly — ask whether there is a terrible moral sickness spreading amongst many of their coreligionists. French and German mothers and fathers join increasing numbers of American parents in trembling for their own sons and daughters as they saw — and continue to see in their minds’ eyes — the rows of little bloodied corpses and weeping, furious parents in the shattered Russian city of Beslan.

But even at this moment of maximum moral opticallity, a few callous nitwits both in our government and abroad have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate with the butchers of his people’s children. We are gratified that President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell have expressed their condolences to the Russian people. Mr. Rumsfeld was particularly compelling when he spoke about the situation last week:

“It ought to be a wake-up call for the whole world that any collection of humanity that will go out and kill hundreds and hundreds of schoolchildren has to be coped with … [and] cannot be allowed to run free. There really are no free passes in this struggle, this war. No free passes for countries, no free passes for individuals…It underscores how the war on terrorism is a global struggle … [it] is the circumstance of our generation and we need to face up to it and stay on the offense.”

We are also encouraged by the defiant words and moral clarity of the Russian ambassador to the United States, Yuri Ushakov: “It is already clear that terrorists will never stop killing us if they are not stopped and eliminated with all the power and might of our nation and those of the civilized world.” The ambassador’s entire remarks may be read on the facing page.

Many Americans remember the comfort they felt — if briefly — in the hours and days after 9:00 a.m. September 11, as expressions of condolences flowed in from around the world, and we remember that Mr. Putin was the first foreign leader to send his on that day. Some Americans are now reciprocating the sentiment. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already has collected tens of thousands of dollars and goods for shipment to the distressed parents of Beslan. The Alexandria-based National Council for Adoption — which has worked for years with Russian parents and governments to help find American homes for Russian children in need of adoption — is busy raising money and provisions for the same decent purpose. Other individual Americans and groups are reaching out.

This is vital, not only for the material assistance, but as an expression of their commitment to an active solidarity with other civilized people prepared to stand and fight the barbarism. But these moments pass so easily from the world’s consciousness. Last week the world was forced to see the moral polarity between the sweet innocence of the children of Beslan and the absolute evil of their Islamist terrorist murderers. If we hold that vision bright in our minds, we may now rally civilization to its own defense — as the world failed to do after September 11. If we let this lesson, too, fade into the prosaic, yet more innocent lives will be cut short before civilization even begins to unite for its common defense.

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