Sept 11th: An Attack On Our Values

This column was first published in the Herald after Sept. 11, 2001. I’m reprinting it (with some minor revisions), on the eve of the fifth anniversary of that blackest day in our nation’s history, as a reminder of the fundamental nature of America and her enemies.

One day as I drove down Lexington Avenue, I understood the reverence author-philosopher Ayn Rand had for New York City.

From an incline along that avenue, a vantage point from which I’d never before seen Manhattan, I was awed by the many tall, stately buildings that lined the perfectly straight street for miles. Finally I’d had grasped how this scene, which resembled a canyon, and the entire metropolis had sprang not from nature, but from the human mind.

I was reminded of a passage from Rand’s novel “The Fountainhead”: “I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York‘s skyline. Particularly when one can’t see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need?”

On Sept. 11, 2001, after I’d watched Islamic terrorists destroy the twin towers and the innocent people in them, I was reminded of what Rand also wrote about evil: “They do not want to own your fortune, they want you to lose it; they do not want to succeed; they want you to fail; they do not want to live, they want you to die; they desire nothing, they hate existence … You who’ve never grasped the nature of evil, you who describe them as ‘misguided idealists,’ they are the essence of evil.”

This passage from “Atlas Shrugged” serves to answer people bewildered over how human beings can act so savagely. At root, the Islamic terrorists are motivated by nihilism, the desire to destroy all values and existence. And they understood that the skyscraper is uniquely American.

Because of our nation’s unprecedented liberties, Americans were free to form independent judgments and act on them. This environment spawned the Industrial Revolution, which saw great technological advances and labor-saving devices, such as the steel girders and elevators that made skyscrapers possible. More specifically, the twin towers embodied capitalism, whose foundation — the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — spawned America‘s unsurpassed prosperity.

Those gleaming, soaring, stately towers were a proud boast of all these sublime human values and achievements. And this is why the religious nihilists twice targeted them. More specifically, they targeted the towers’ source: the liberated human mind. Militant Islamicists don’t want America‘s freedom, its industriousness, its technological advances, its high standard of living — nor its skyscrapers. They only want us to lose them through their destructive acts.

This upcoming war is between America and Islamic fundamentalists. In essence, Americans use reason to choose their values and actions; the terrorists have blind faith in Allah’s word. We value freedom; they value religious totalitarianism. We value the individual; they force the individual to submit and sacrifice to their religious dogma. We pursue and achieve happiness here on earth; they damn this world and martyr themselves for an alleged afterworld.

At root, we want life and they want death. (As a Taliban spokesman put it, “Americans want to live; but we Muslims are willing to die for our beliefs.”) Our leaders should give the death-worshiping terrorists what they want, in part, as an act of justice for we Americans who want to live.

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