Mirror-imaging the Jihadis

In light of the ghastly massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar by the Taliban and the terrorism in Sydney this week, familiar rhetoric has condemned the resulting deaths as “incomprehensible” and “senseless.” While these ideologically driven murders certainly are senseless to a morally grounded mind, a mind that is more concerned with rationalizing the evil it seeks to perpetrate is governed by a subrational, internal consistency. Progressivism assumes a dangerously fallacious moral equivalence between all peoples and cultures (of course, with the notable exception of conservatives and the United States; they bear the badge of unmitigated villainy), that is so crippling that it causes its subscribers to apologize for their survival, rather than retaliate to preserve it. Unraveling the pretentious swaddling of fashionable postmodern morality reveals a deep lack of confidence to make unapologetic moral assertions, not a sophisticated worldview. In fact, it reveals a worldview constructed of plywood facades, an imitation of shelter that cannot stand against the weather.

Growing up in a rich, liberal, capitalist country is so abundantly safe for most people, and so many have grown up in the insulating comforts of cities, served by supply chains that make material goods seem to just appear, that people hardly understand what a threat to their survival even is. Civilization is something we construct and maintain; the reality it insulates us from is entropic, relentless, and harsh. Call it a trade-off for living in a pinnacle nation -- it’s a pretty good one, but it comes with its own set of problems, such as it seems to produce a sheltered, feel-good attitude that, “All people must be like me.” While this bolstering cliché may make someone feel safe, it actually makes them less safe. This is expressly the attitude that predatory people look for in their victims, and ruthlessly exploit. “All people must be reasonable,” or “All people must be good deep down,” are well-meaning, if rather fatuous, ideals that undergird statements like Hillary Clinton’s now famously lampooned gaffe that “we must empathize with our enemies.” Clinton is attempting to be a good liberal and wiggle out of making an uncomfortable moral judgment that privileges one people as more righteous than another. What her woolgathering would do in practice is give marks of honor to brutes, as Obama has done by negotiating with the Communist regime of Cuba.

When, against all good sense, a person insists on believing honest bargains can be made regardless of the players, or on sympathizing with the waterboarded Taliban only to backpedal when the wind changes and they slaughter a schoolhouse and burn a teacher alive, he engages in an obnoxious form of self-flattery. Only a babe in the woods, or a sheep quickly fleeced, believes a jihadist has a legitimate grievance that needs to be entertained in order to tuck into bed once and for all the rage and violence of their poor, misunderstood heart. Evil people commit evil because they enjoy committing evil, and their “grievances” are rationalizations that only the gullible -- or cynically opportunistic -- court.

It is only human to want to make sense of tragedies, as many decent people attest to when they expressed their horror and incomprehension at the slaying of children in Pakistan this week. The mere idea of hurting a child leaves most civilized people stricken— but not all people are civilized, and that is an important truth to not obfuscate in today’s onerously politically correct climate. The mirror-imaging fallacy is the honor attendant of the moral-equivalence fallacy. In the intelligence community, mirror imaging is known as dangerously presuming that your enemies are operating under the same assumptions that you are, and that they are also rational actors or inculcated with similar values of honor. Assuming others behaving irrationally have a rational explanation is, in itself, an irrational expectation on the behalf of the individual receiving the “explanation,” or “grievances,” or “demands.” A person prone to this kind of soft thinking and logical errors are liabilities in a geopolitical sense.

What the well-meaning people of North America and Europe have to accept if they are going to realistically reduce the threat of further casualties from Islamic terrorism, is that though terrorists may intellectualize their entitlement to maim and murder, their rationalization is subrational and illegitimate -- period. Accepting the “reasons” jihadists and “self-styled sheiks” proffer up as legitimate does not illustrate big-heartedness; it illustrates unrigorous thinking, poor judgment, and that a sucker is born every minute. Mark Steyn aptly calls it, “Islamic imperialism” -- and he is not exaggerating; spend some time reading the party platform of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a political party with an open presence in Great Britain that advocates for an Islamic State. One Google image search reveals rallies around the Black Flag. The apologetic impulses of the West are ripe for exploiting by monsters like Man Haron Monis, who are more than happy to take advantage of Western altruism while excoriating its traditions and institutions -- who repay the hospitality of Australians with death in a bustling Lindt coffee shop on an otherwise peaceful Monday.