Today as the US woke up, it was greeted with horrific news. The Pakistani Taliban attacked a school run by the Pakistani Army and slaughtered over 140 civilians, mostly children. Yes, the school wasn't a military school, but an ordinary school for kids. At the same time, a car bombing in Yemen carried out by Al Qaeda claimed the lives of 20 children. And over the weekend, a crazed gunman with pretensions of Islamic State membership took a restaurant hostage in Sydney, causing his own death and the death of two hostages when the Australian special forces stormed the building.
I think the fallacy that the Taliban and AQ are "freedom fighters" combating "Western hegemony" has been put to rest. The last I checked, the children in Yemen and Peshawar weren't on the CIA's payroll. What the Taliban, AQ, IS, and their affiliates are is death cults. Any legitimate grievance they may have had has long faded into the rear view mirror. They now perpetuate violence, all in the service of a dark utopia. That utopia is being partly realized in the IS-held sections of Iraq like Mosul, and the results aren't pretty, even for orthodox, conservative Muslims. It is a cult of death and austerity, a yearning for a return to some prelapsarian state which never existed. It is a search for a dark Eden which never was but should have been.
But, of course, a death cult isn't peculiar to the Muslim world. We have our own versions here.
What else would you call it when an organization which has an outsized influence on our members of Congress says that school massacres on our shores warrant more guns, not fewer? What do you call it when a large percentage of our population treats their neighbors receiving life-saving health coverage as a threat to the Republic? What do you call it when fellow citizens go on social media and mock the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner?
We can justly condemn what happened in Pakistan and Yemen. But we cannot do so while blind to our own failings.
Too many Americans are embroiled in their own death cults. They're told that they're the Elect, that people outside their circle don't matter and deserve what they get. They're told that their way of life is in danger, and only brute force will suffice. They see nothing wrong with the procedures outlined in the Senate torture report, and actually applaud them.
And now many of these same Americans will loudly bray about "Muslim barbarism", without recognizing the logs in their eyes.
But for every loudmouth who mockingly says "I can't breathe", thousands take to the streets to make their voices heard. For every crazed "imam", ordinary people tell their Muslim fellow citizens that #illridewithyou. For every outrage perpetrated by the Taliban, you see a standing of #indiawithpakistan.
The two centripetal forces in conflict in our modern world are life and death. The death cults have the splash, the sex appeal, the violent imagery so valued in our media culture. Life is much subtler, less noisy. But it's no less powerful. And, perhaps, more powerful because of its quiet, its wonderworking power to change hearts one at a time.
Death is easy. It's easy to pull a trigger. It's easy to plant a bomb. It's easy to mock the unjustly killed. One does it without thinking. One does it because one is conditioned.
Life is more difficult. It requires work. It requires thought. It requires constant care. It appeals to reason, rather than the dark, rampant id. Death chooses you. You choose life.
The world has to make a conscious decision for life. It is the only thing which will consign the cults of death to history's dustbin. It is the only thing which fulfill humanity's promise. Otherwise, we'll just be another of the failed forms of life which have graced this earth.