Nowadays, the truth of peace continues to be dramatically compromised and rejected by terrorism, whose criminal threats and attacks leave the world in a state of fear and insecurity. These are often the fruit of a tragic and disturbing nihilism.
Looked at closely, nihilism and fundamentalism share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force. Both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God’s existence and his provident presence in history while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving image.
In analyzing the causes of the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism, consideration should be given to its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations. All Catholics in every part of the world have a duty to proclaim and embody ever more fully the “Gospel of Peace,” and to show that acknowledgment of the full truth of God is the first, indispensable condition for consolidation the truth of peace.
God is Love which saves, a loving Father who wants to see his children look upon one another as brothers and sisters, working responsibly to place their various talents at the service of the common good of the human family. God is the unfailing source of the hope which gives meaning to personal and community life. God, and God alone, brings to fulfillment every work of good and of peace.
— Pope Benedict XVI, Message on World Day of Peace, January 1, 2006
This except occurred to me after reading about Faisal Shahzad’s uncertain ties to the Taliban, and his as-yet-not explained contempt for the nation whose citizenship he accepted and whose freedoms and opportunities he enjoyed. Why would he not simply want to contribute his talents into the human collective, so to speak, (as we all do in our work) and make his way toward his god, in peace?
The press is running ragged trying to identify the mysterious motive behind Shahzad’s attempt to kill and maim unsuspecting strangers; he was a victim of the (Bush) economy, whose house was foreclosed on! In 2004, he said he hated Bush (hardly a remarkable opinion) and the Iraqi war! It was the drones! He didn’t like the drone attacks!
Faisal Shahzad earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, where he did not seem to stand out in any way. He was not memorable, just an average guy. Doubtless we will soon read that Shahzad’s attempted bombing was an attempt to make a name for himself, to be noticed and known in an America that cruelly ignored him by assuming he was like anyone else. That certainly could be one subconscious motivation.
The search for the best, most politically useful motive will go on, but all of these excuses are mere pretexts, they are attempts to ignore something that is fundamental to the Times Square Bomber: his religion.
We’re not allowed to talk about his faith. Someone pointed out that in the myriad news stories immediately covering Shahzad, the word “Islam” only appeared in “Islamabad” and “Muslim” appeared only once. Governmental and media elites are so dedicated to political correctness (and seemingly so keen to blame terrorism on middle-class conservatives) that some quickly made fools of themselves, suggesting that the attack could be “someone who didn’t like the healthcare bill” or that the attack would be fodder for the sort of racist, violent reaction that these middle-class (often Christian) conservatives are lately being accused of even though they stubbornly to conform to that template.
If I decided -like Shahzad- to set off a car bomb outside of the offices of Viacom, which produces South Park, does anyone think my Catholicism would not be mentioned? “Fundamentalist Catholic Takes Revenge on Cartoon!” It would be a lede so sensational, so irresistible, that they would omit the “fundamentalist” qualifier. Without it, after all, the indictment extends to the whole church.
Which, ironically, is precisely the indictment that the government and the press are trying to prevent being brought, in the case of Shahzad. They so disdain ordinary Americans that they do not trust them to be smart enough, or fair enough, not to fault an entire group of people for the actions of one, or even of 19. Apparently the peaceful way ordinary Americans went about their lives after 9/11 brought no new understanding to bear on elitist bigotry.
Pope Benedict was very wise in linking fundamentalism and nihilism. Both strip away reason and balance until all that is left is an ignorance that becomes downright heretical, even when the fundamentalism is applied to atheism, or ideology. Fundamentalism and nihilism both strip down broad and multi-faceted systems and cling to one aspect of one idea within the complex whole; allowing that one vastly oversimplified idea to dominate, the imbalance leads to a narrowing of perspective that never ends well.
Faisal Shahzad’s motives are mysterious right now, to the press and the government. That mystery may be rooted in the fact that they have stripped down the broad, multi-faceted system of social conventions to one idea (some groups are to be protected from criticism or suspicion) and one aspect of that idea (they must be protected from the always-suspect bourgeois). Allowing that single, vastly over-simplified idea to dominate their thinking, their perspective has become perilously narrowed.
Required to consider a whole complex world full of positions, opportunists and threats, the lockstep government and press are choosing instead to follow their one unkempt notion as it guides them into an ill-lit alleyway where, like the Faber College Marching Band, they will soon hit a wall.