Holier than thou

Posted: May 17, 2004 12:00 AM

When the White House promised to punish the murderers who sawed off Nicholas Berg's head, a spokesman said the crime "showed the true nature of the enemies of freedom."

Wrong. Or, rather, not wrong, but vague, and perilously so. It's not every enemy of freedom who shouts, "Allahu akbar (God is great)!" while committing murder in front of a video camera. What Mr. Berg's heinous killing showed was the true nature of fundamentalist and unreformed Islam, according to the Koran. "Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks," says verse 47-4 in the Marmaduke Mohammad Pickthall translation. This and other venerable translations stand until modern Muslims renounce the principle of jihad, or holy war against the "infidel."

 Until that happens, pulling the political veil over the face of the enemy is not just a fashionable nod to political correctness. Failing to unmask the brutal face of modern jihad is a possibly suicidal lapse of logic and nerve that has dangerously obscured the wider war on "terror" -- which, of course, is the euphemism of choice for Islamic jihad.

Mincing words also contributes to something else, something that has emerged from the flames of the utterly surreal conflagration over Abu Ghraib that still threatens to snuff our entire military mission. Only a politically correct ruling class (including Big Media) that converses in the opaque terms of "war on terror" and "enemies of freedom" could regard Abu Ghraib with the tunnel vision necessary to shut out all the world, past, present and future. Only the permanently and willfully blinkered can see in the finite abuses at the Baghdad prison -- abuses long halted and in the process of being rectified -- the epic horror of the age, while a war rages on.

But it is not just prison guards run amok that draw fire. Big guns now train their sights on the interrogation techniques used on all prisoners of the war on Islamic jihad, including top leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda.

Such a venture reveals a heedless ignorance of the fanatical barbarism of the jihadist enemy we face. That is, our jihad-obsessed enemy -- to whom "martyrdom" means paradise and 72 virgins, to whom killing as many "infidels" as possible on the battlefield means martyrdom, and to whom marketplaces and hotels and office buildings mean battlefields -- has evolved outside the Western tradition and far from the principles of the Geneva Convention.

Not that politically correct lawmakers have noticed. In calling for the administration to abide "unequivocally" by the Geneva Convention regarding all detainees, including terrorists, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speculated whether such a declaration would "also serve to help American prisoners." In other words, we'll serve tea and crumpets, and they'll serve tea and crumpets -- and not hack off the head of an American Jew who dared to enter Iraq to build radio towers.

And if we can't make nice across the board, we're Nazis -- this, according to Sen. John McCain. Telling radio host Don Imus not to downplay the scandal of Abu Ghraib, the Arizona Republican said, "If you go down that slippery slope, OK -- you decide, OK, well, this torture is OK -- then what's the difference between us and the Gestapo?" One enormous difference -- and how dispiriting to need to remind the senator of this -- is the motive involved. When the CIA, say, dunks Sept. 11-planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into a pool on something called a water-board, as The New York Times breathlessly reported, the CIA is trying to find which shopping mall may contain Osama bin Laden's dirty bomb. When the Gestapo used such techniques (and far worse), the Gestapo was trying to find hidden Jews to kill.

How bizarre: We seem to have become more enamored of our self-image of heavenly stainlessness than we are inspired by our fight to survive.  Victory -- which is surely just, in that it means liberty and justice for more -- takes a back seat on this "high road." From a small spot on the national escutcheon, something for military justice to wipe clean, has erupted a wild epidemic of collective guilt, with stricken pols assuming holier-than-thou poses that would topple in a heap were reality allowed to impinge.

Such as Nicholas Berg's grisly murder. Someone should ask whether it's really necessary to flagellate ourselves into a state of moral chastity before trying to ensure that his short life -- like the short lives of hundreds of brave souls killed trying to mend a broken country and save their own -- was not lost in vain.