originally published in the New York Times, sept. 2004
still, the best article i ever read about our modern times
September 7, 2004 New York Times
Cult of Death
By DAVID BROOKS
We've been forced to witness the massacre of innocents. In New York,
Madrid, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Baghdad and Bali, we have seen thousands of people destroyed while going about the daily activities of life.
We've been forced to endure the massacre of children. Whether it's
teenagers outside an Israeli disco or students in Beslan, Russia,
we've seen kids singled out as special targets.
We should by now have become used to the death cult that is thriving
at the fringes of the Muslim world. This is the cult of people who are
proud to declare, "You love life, but we love death." This is the cult
that sent waves of defenseless children to be mowed down on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war, that trains kindergartners to become bombs, that fetishizes death, that sends people off joyfully to
commit mass murder.
This cult attaches itself to a political cause but parasitically
strangles it. The death cult has strangled the dream of a Palestinian
state. The suicide bombers have not brought peace to Palestine;
they've brought reprisals. The car bombers are not pushing the U.S.
out of Iraq; they're forcing us to stay longer. The death cult is now
strangling the Chechen cause, and will bring not independence but
But that's the idea. Because the death cult is not really about the
cause it purports to serve. It's about the sheer pleasure of killing
It's about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness.
It's about experiencing the total freedom of barbarism - freedom even
from human nature, which says, Love children, and Love life. It's
about the joy of sadism and suicide.
We should be used to this pathological mass movement by now. We should
be able to talk about such things. Yet when you look at the Western
reaction to the Beslan massacres, you see people quick to divert their
attention away from the core horror of this act, as if to say: We
don't want to stare into this abyss. We don't want to acknowledge
those parts of human nature that were on display in Beslan. Something
here, if thought about too deeply, undermines the categories we use to
live our lives, undermines our faith in the essential goodness of
Three years after Sept. 11, too many people have become experts at
averting their eyes. If you look at the editorials and public
pronouncements made in response to Beslan, you see that they glide
over the perpetrators of this act and search for more conventional,
more easily comprehensible targets for their rage.
The Boston Globe editorial, which was typical of the American
journalistic response, made two quick references to the barbarity of
the terrorists, but then quickly veered off with long passages
condemning Putin and various Russian policy errors.
The Dutch foreign minister, Bernard Bot, speaking on behalf of the
European Union, declared: "All countries in the world need to work
together to prevent tragedies like this. But we also would like to
know from the Russian authorities how this tragedy could have
It wasn't a tragedy. It was a carefully planned mass murder operation.
And it wasn't Russian authorities who stuffed basketball nets with
explosives and shot children in the back as they tried to run away.
Whatever horrors the Russians have perpetrated upon the Chechens,
whatever their ineptitude in responding to the attack, the essential
nature of this act was in the act itself. It was the fact that a team
of human beings could go into a school, live with hundreds of children
for a few days, look them in the eyes and hear their cries, and then
blow them up.
Dissertations will be written about the euphemisms the media used to
describe these murderers. They were called "separatists" and
"hostage-takers." Three years after Sept. 11, many are still
apparently unable to talk about this evil. They still try to
rationalize terror. What drives the terrorists to do this? What are
they trying to achieve?
They're still victims of the delusion that Paul Berman diagnosed after
Sept. 11: "It was the belief that, in the modern world, even the
enemies of reason cannot be the enemies of reason. Even the
unreasonable must be, in some fashion, reasonable."
This death cult has no reason and is beyond negotiation. This is what
makes it so frightening. This is what causes so many to engage in a
sort of mental diversion. They don't want to confront this horror. So
they rush off in search of more comprehensible things to hate.