"They" -- the Taliban -- "were given the choice of siding with justice, or siding with terror. They chose terror."
Tony Blair's way of putting things is precise and inarguable. But there is another, earthier way of expressing the matter. "They" chose the mass murderer in the camouflage fatigues, who was proposing in the now-famous videotape to engineer mass murder on a scale yet unseen. And so they are getting even now what they, or at any rate, their dense and morally perverted regime, asked for.
They are getting in fact less than they asked for. A case could be made out -- a Lenin or a Genghis Khan would not scruple to make out one -- for the extermination of such enemies. George Bush and Tony Blair made out no such case. The case they made out was merely for the pursuit of those who threaten peace -- the pursuit of them -- not the annihilation of them all, and of all others who stand in the way. The civilized don't do that sort of thing. When the time comes to quit blabbing and take a stand, they resort to precision bombing; they curb blood lust; they define their purposes narrowly; they quit when they win.
Here's the long and the short of it: We're civilized, the Talibanists, the bin-Ladenites, aren't.
It is even more than this. They haven't the slightest wish to be "civilized" in a way that would enjoin tolerance and respect for others' freedoms. As the prophet Osama puts it, "I tell them that these events have divided the world into two camps, the camp of the faithful and the camp of infidels." Into outer darkness, you infidels!
U.S. and British military action against Afghanistan really requires no defense. You consider those whom you're bombing -- that's the defense. You have to bomb for some little while, even though you'd rather not, because if you don't, they're coming to get you.
Now is that defense conditioned on the radiant perfection of contemporary Western civilization? Er, not exactly -- for reasons that cultural critics, starting with the pope and working down through Bill Bennett to the most recently hired second grade teacher -- would acknowledge and affirm. The West's once-vaunted Christianity, for so long its intellectual organizing principle, is in Europe a gurgle, in the United States a nervous whinny. Abortion, pornography and wholesale divorce don't exactly adorn the cultural landscape. The Holocaust arose, inexplicably, from the bosom of the race that blessed the world with Luther and Mozart.
Very well. We're hardly perfect. Still, less perfect are people -- if you must refer to them as "people" -- who try to change the world by flying airplanes into buildings. Calling them nut cases or psychopaths does not avail; if their logic is twisted, still they consider themselves wholly, irreproachably logical. It is as though in their case the devil drove -- which maybe actually he does.
Yes, we're better than they are. How do you like that for a good, non-egalitarian argument?
Mercy is better than murder, free thought is superior to bigotry. If not, we should pray for the repulse of our missiles and special-forces teams and for many more World Trade Center-type attacks upon our country, until, in our vast wickedness, we're all gone.
That much wickedness? The wickedness of air-dropping food and medicine to the people whose country we bomb? The wickedness of avoiding civilian targets, after our own civilians were set on with such ferocity and callousness?
The choice to which Tony Blair refers -- justice or terror -- is no choice, at least for Westerners. The prophet Osama, in his Western-style camouflage suit, with his Western-style wrist watch, talking into a Western-style mike, is the latest Genghis Khan to come charging out of the east, telling the West it must submit or die. To hell with him.