The National Catholic Review

I knew the hate would be coming, but not with such ferocity, such immediacy and such prominence. Time magazine’s specially rushed issue portraying the World Trade Center atrocity ran one opinion piece, on its last written page. It was Lance Morrow’s Case for Rage and Retribution. But it was much more than that. It was a rejection of healing, a call for a holy war of our own, filled with loathing not only for the perpetrators, but for those who cheer them on and have given them support.

Well, we know that possibly millions cheered them on, for whatever their heartless reasons, and we have been told that the governments of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Sudan, for a start, have given support to such terrorists. Morrow’s solution is easy: America needs to relearn a lost discipline, self-confident relentlessness and to learn why human nature has equipped us all with a weapon (abhorred in decent peacetime societies) called hatred. This will allow us to exterminate men like Osama bin Laden and those who conspire with them.

One might pass this off as an isolated case of mindless invective or, more charitably, venting, but it is just one example of the language of extremists against Muslim extremists. Ann Coulter, often seen on one of our news networks, wrote the following for the Universal Press Syndicate and The National Review’s Web site: We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.

Andrea Peyser in a New York Post column calling for the United Nations to get the hell out of town, paused to characterize Christiane Amanpour as a war slut.

In the Washington Times, A. M. Rosenthal proposed a set of ultimatums to the six countries named above. If after three days of warning citizens to flee their capitals and major cities, the conditions are not met, the cities are to be bombed to the ground on the fourth day and their governments forced to become democracies.

It gets worse. John Gibson, on the internationally available Fox News and the internationally available column on its Web site, suggests that the United States would do well to imitate the methods of Syria’s Hafez Hassad, who reportedly obliterated a Syrian town that harbored his enemies. He shelled the town until everybody was either dead or gone and literally paved over it. It was cruel. It was heartless. It was merciless. It was unfair. But he didn’t have political problems with his opponents again. Works for them. So why is it so bad for us?

Finally, Richard Brookhiser, in The New York Observer, noting that the world’s losers hate us because we are rich, powerful and good, offered a cute twist on Jesus’ words: the offenders should be repaid seven times seven.

Well, it won’t be repaid. And it cannot be repaid. The slaughter of innocent children on a jet? The incineration of almost 7,000 noncombatant men and women? The leveling of our valued places? None of this, even sevenfold, would repay anything, would heal no one, would do anything other than multiply the moral monstrosity wrought upon us.

Meanwhile we demand that the moderates of Islam and the Arab world denounce their extremists (as many of them, as a matter of fact, have done) and shame the hatemongers who could dance at the sight of our mourning. What about our own voices of hate and their incendiary rhetoric? And these are not street rabble or wild fundamentalists. These are people who are given places of honor and influence on our opinion pages and are exposed to millions on television. They should be shamed.

No, I am not making some moral equivalence between these extremists and the fanatics who committed abominations in the name of their extremism. I am saying that this is the kind of rhetoric that extremists thrive on, that polarizes nations and radicalizes people within the same nation.

To try to understand why the perfidy of Sept. 11 could be executed, much less even contemplated, is not to offer some justification, for the act is objectively unjustifiableunless you are such a relativist that nothing outrages you or fills you with moral nausea.

Eliminate those who harbor and support’ the terrorists. What does that mean? If it is known that a country has provided opportunity and resources to 1,000 known terrorists, will that count? If so, we will have to bomb ourselves, for that is the number of terrorists the F.B.I. estimates are currently living in the United States. And we have spent billions of dollars each year in surveillance and counterintelligence. We expect Egypt and Sudan to do better?

My quarrel is not with the violation and rage we may feel. My case is utterly opposed to writers, largely on the left (and extreme right) who think the United States deserves this breaking pain because we have not been liberal or conservative enough.

My point is this. If both sides of this newly declared war listen to the voices of extremism in their midst, it will indeed be a war we undertake, the first truly world war, plotted by the three children of Abraham and Sarah—Muslim, Jew and Christian, strewn across the earth, exterminating one another.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.