First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Can America Win the Culture War?
The war that fanatical Islam declared against the United States is really a war of their civilization against ours. To them, America represents all the cultural forces that endanger pure Islam.
The only goal that makes sense to these Islamic purists is to pursue whatever course of action will eventually lead to the whole world serving Allah according to the words of the Prophet Muhammed.
And the only goal that makes sense for America is to pursue whatever course of action will eventually lead to the whole world being ruled by governments that allow freedom of belief, freedom of speech, and all the other freedoms of the bill of rights.
When I put it that way, who can doubt that America should win?
But the question is more complicated. No matter how right we think we are -- no matter how much happier and more prosperous people tend to be when they live in freedom -- the question that will decide the outcome of this longterm struggle is ruthlessly darwinian.
Both civilizations have traits that promote unity and strength; both have traits that lead to disharmony and weakness. The civilization that has the least strength and the greatest weakness will, eventually, lose to the stronger one.
Even if the loser has the best weapons that money can buy.
The Muslim nations tend to be overpopulated and desperately poor -- but their vast numbers mean that they have a deep reservoir of young men at precisely the age when they are willing to fling themselves into holy war without consideration of their own survival.
They are taught from childhood on that it is the will of God for all mankind to accept Islam.
We, on the other hand, have universities that harbor faculty who teach our young people that America is not worth fighting for, and that to bring freedom to other people is not altruism but imperialism.
We are led by politicians who openly treat us as if the only thing we cared about were money. ("It's the economy, stupid!")
We are deliberately fragmented into groups that claim special rights because they have been mistreated in the past, even though their recompense comes at the expense of many who have done them no harm.
While Islam is uniting in a common cause -- hatred of us -- we, despite the flag-waving of the past few months, continue to push the processes that break us apart.
Because the common people in the Islamic world are poor and uneducated, they can't receive our positive message, which is delivered by way of books they cannot read and satellite dishes they cannot buy. Those who speak to them in their own language, from within their own culture, can tell them whatever lies they want to tell them about America.
But only part of what they tell the Muslim people is untrue.
Much of what they say is, in fact, accurate.
Too many Americans really do devote their lives to making money and advancing in their careers at the expense of having and raising children who are taught right from wrong.
Too many Americans think they should be able to indulge in whatever pleasures they choose, no matter who else gets hurt or betrayed, and no matter what it costs the society at large.
We really are killing a shocking number of unborn infants, many of them mature enough to survive if they could only be delivered from their mothers' bodies.
We really are forcing a shocking number of children to grow up in fatherless homes, by the choice of one or the other or both biological parents -- and it is considered "wrong" to criticize people who make that decision. (Remember Dan Quayle and Murphy Brown?)
Our culture really does promote pushing our children into day care even though it is obvious that children grow up happier and more civilized in a home where they have constant contact with parents who love them and spend time with them and care about helping them learn to make right choices.
We really do close our eyes to the fact that marriage has become almost meaningless, with couples living together without any respect for the right of society to expect them to make binding commitments, while those who have married are able to break that covenant at will, regardless of the cost to their own and other people's children.
Anyone who criticizes anti-social choices is branded as evil. Any attempt to stop our cultural media from attacking traditional, time-tested, pro-social moral values is condemned as "censorship."
In fact, in the midst of our much-vaunted freedom, too many Americans have come to believe that to speak freely about one's moral beliefs is to "force" them on others. Yet those who attack traditional morality have no qualms about literally forcing their beliefs on the rest of us.
When you look through history and see what kinds of traits are shared by the cultures that thrive and grow and spread, the pattern we are following right now, as a civilization, is not promising. It is as if we have decided to break ourselves in pieces, to delegitimize our own traditions, to systematically break up our families and leave our next generation feeling lonely, resentful, and purposeless in life, with no permanent connection with any other soul.
It is as if we had decided, as a people, to give up the very things that make a civilization great. And in exchange we get ... movies and television, sophisticated weapons, cool appliances and plenty of amusements to pass our empty hours.
In many communities within the American nation, many or most of these negative descriptions are not true. But the overwhelming message conveyed by our intellectual elite -- our cultural leaders and spokespeople -- is that these destructive traits are actually desirable.
We are at war with a civilization that is willing to sacrifice, that is united by a common faith, that honors those who keep their oaths and are faithful to their families, and that believes that their civilization represents humanity at its most admirable.
They believe they not only can but should prevail, and will act to make sure they do.
And if we are going to prevail against them and preserve the many good things about our culture, we need to shore up our own house. It isn't increased security at airports that will save us, it is increased unity of belief and a refusal to support an intellectual elite that treats our faith as stupid, our fidelity as meaningless, and sacrifice for America as a waste.
Our fathers and mothers need to turn to their children. Our children need to learn self-discipline and self-reliance rather than self-indulgence and grievance. We need to be the kind of people who obey the rules even when the referee isn't looking.
The "world's only superpower" can blow up whatever it wants to. But then again, on 11 September, our enemies proved that they could, too.
The real test is what our two competing civilizations can build at home.
Waving the flag gives the illusion of unity. Obeying the law, teaching our children, staying faithful to our families, honoring those who are decent and caring instead of those who are selfish, and proclaiming openly what we believe in and care about will, in the long run, create the fact of unity and strength.
Copyright © 2001 by Orson Scott Card.
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