One would rather not be forced to contemplate pure evil at this time of year, but the world marches on -- and today dawns with a videotape of Osama bin Laden exulting in the deaths of thousands of us and promising more to come.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz demonstrated admirable word choice when he called the tape "disgusting." And it's obvious that decent people throughout the world will respond in like fashion. The mass murderer accepts the praise of his guest, an unknown sheikh, who rhapsodizes about the treacherous, murdering attacker of unsuspecting innocents seated opposite: "Hundreds of people used to doubt you and few only would follow you until this huge event happened. Now hundreds of people are coming out to join you."
Apparently, murdering innocents is what inspires them. Certainly bin Laden believes as much. "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." Bin Laden then boasts that his barbarity has helped bring people in the West to Islam and thus to God. "I heard someone on Islamic radio who owns a school in America say, 'We don't have time to keep up with the demands of those who are asking about Islamic books to learn about Islam.'" Not quite for the reasons he may hope.
We've learned so much in the past three months about Islamism and yet it still has the power to stupefy. To watch men who clearly think of themselves as pious rejoicing in treachery and destruction is chilling.
Usually, people who commit evil acts at least possess the guilty virtues of euphemism or hypocrisy. They attempt to clothe their viciousness in noble garments. It isn't killing innocent Israeli men, women and children, the defenders of Hamas explain, it is "revenge" for Israel's targeting of a terrorist mastermind (who will usually be described as an "innocent Palestinian").
Not so with Al Qaeda and its admirers, who are willing to embrace pure evil for the sake of a twisted image of God. In "The Abolition of Man," C.S. Lewis argued that no civilization on earth (and he included Islamic civilization) has ever embraced treachery over loyalty, cowardice over courage, lying over honesty. Lewis had not seen Islamism. But then, Islamism is not a civilization, it is a band of criminals. But how large is its following?
Bin Laden seems quite sure that mass murder has an eager audience among the faithful. One leaves to scholars the debate over whether there are aspects intrinsic to Islam that encourage such deformations of the religion. (The Koran, for example, does speak in extremely militant language about unbelievers and even recommends wife-beating in certain instances.) But there is no doubt about, and no sense obscuring the fact, that while majorities of Islamic believers were probably repelled by bin Laden's atrocities, a disturbing number of Islamic leaders, not just in the Arab world but in the United States, subscribe to radical Islam and openly or clandestinely rejoice in America's victimization.
Daniel Pipes, in Commentary magazine, quotes Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, an American Muslim leader, who estimates that "80 percent of the mosques" in the United States have been taken over by "extremists." They believe that a Muslim cannot legitimately live among unbelievers unless his goal is to convert them. Nor can radical Islamists live comfortably in a pluralistic society in which church and state are separated.
Zaid Shakir, for example, formerly the Muslim chaplain at Yale, has said that Muslims cannot accept the legitimacy of the American secular system, "which is against the orders and ordainments of Allah. The orientation of the (Koran) pushes us in the exact opposite direction."
Siraj Wahaj, the first Muslim cleric to offer the morning invocation before the House of Representatives, later served as a character witness for Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh found guilty of conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States in the case of the first World Trade Center bombing.
With plentiful excuses and politically correct explanations, several newspapers have reported that Islamic schools in places like Jersey City, N.J., and Potomac, Md., are teaching their kids to sympathize with radical Islam and despise the United States.
So while bin Laden's obscene tape sears the hearts of good listeners, there are large numbers, even here in the United States, who will thrill to his message.