The putrid stench of evil

Posted: Oct 10, 2001 12:00 AM
Last week, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue invited me to join a delegation to New York City to demonstrate our confidence in air travel and to demonstrate that the Big Apple is open for business. I was privileged to visit "Ground Zero." The pictures of destruction I'd seen on television could never have prepared me for the smell of evil that hangs over the site -- and I don't mean the very real odors that assault the senses but the putrid stench of malevolence, hatred and extremism that penetrate to one's soul. My visit to Ground Zero was emotionally overwhelming. I stood in the middle of one building hollowed by implosion. The remnants of the walls were held up by rubble in the middle, on top of which stood a huge steel formation in the shape of a cross made up of two steel girders towering over 20 feet high. For a Christian that cross represents hope, but it also is a reminder to us all of the cruelty that human beings are capable of when evil possesses their hearts and warps their minds. I have trouble calling the site of this atrocity "Ground Zero"; it's too trite, a misnomer. I felt I was standing on hallowed ground, not unlike the battlefield at Gettysburg, sanctified not only by the sacrifice of human life but also by the courage and heroism of the rescue teams of police, firefighters and common everyday folks who put their own lives at risk to save others and to search for survivors. The hope of that symbolic steel cross was manifest in all the people working themselves to exhaustion at the site, such as 24-year-old truck driver David Sherwood, whose devotion I am incapable of describing. Events like this force a moral clarity on us. As my friend and colleague Bill Bennett said, "We have seen the face and felt the hand of evil." We can no longer take seriously the postmodern mantra about the absence of absolute right and wrong, and we no longer can abide philosophical nonsense that categorizes right and wrong as mere cultural constructs. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said so well what seems to me perfectly obvious: "We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and -- in contrast with Islamic countries -- respect for religious and political rights." He was immediately attacked. Piero Fassino, a prominent member of the Italian Parliament, said the prime minister was "mistaken." Tell me, Mr. Fassino, what part of Berlusconi's statement is wrong? Does the West not respect religious and political freedom? Is that not in stark contrast to most Islamic countries? While Berlusconi is vilified for speaking the truth, Muslim leaders remain curiously unwilling to move aggressively in word and deed to rescue Islam from the terrorists seeking to hijack it. But former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher possessed the moral clarity and courage to state the truth: "The people who brought down those towers were Muslims, and Muslims must stand up and say that is not the way of Islam. They must say that is disgraceful. I have not heard enough condemnation from Muslim priests." I agree that it is time for peace-loving Muslims to go beyond mere expressions of shock and horror, virtually always conjoined in the same sentence with qualifications about American policy leading to "resentment" and "anger" among Muslims and Arabs. It's time for American Muslim leaders to forthrightly condemn those nations who, in the name of Islam, refuse to tolerate and respect religious diversity. And Islamic clerics have an obligation continuously to instill in their faithful that terrorist suicide is not martyrdom. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, poles apart from Thatcher politically, possesses her same moral clarity: "America has its faults as a society, as we have ours," he said. "But I think of the Union of America born out of the defeat of slavery. I think of its Constitution, with its inalienable rights granted to every citizen still a model for the world. I think of a black man, born in poverty, who became chief of their armed forces and is now secretary of state, Colin Powell, and I wonder frankly whether such a thing could have happened here." Now, believe it or not, Powell and the team President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney put together is being attacked as "too dovish." Thank God for this soldier-diplomat who knows how to aim his weapon with steely eyed calm and pull the trigger only when the true enemy is in his sights, not innocent civilians, and who has the maturity not to waste military resources on strategically less important, if more emotionally satisfying, targets. We are at war with the terrorist network, not Islam or the Arab world. Ultimately, we will replace evil with good, but for now we prepare to do battle, and as Thatcher put it, magnanimity comes after victory, not before.