Fear is good, especially in the context of terror threats like the ones that have been keeping Germany busy for the past week. Fear sharpens our gaze, it reduces our attention to the things that are important for our survival. It makes us careful. The current situation – complete with MP-armed policemen patrolling around the German parliament – sharpens our appreciation for the ideals of a free society. The defense of these ideals is of utmost importance.
Who is threatening us?
Because we are confronted with the possibility of a surprise attack, we ask ourselves: Who is threatening us, and why? And when we have honestly answered that question, relief sets in: Our enemy is a motley crew of bearded fundamentalists who wear their bombs on top of a corset of fanatic beliefs. Hamed Abdel-Samad got it right in his recent book “The Downfall of the Islamic World”: the aggression of totalitarian Islamism is not the manifestation of the cultural strength of an expanding Islam but its last and desperate hurrah. It is a sign of Islamic decline rather than of Islamic potential.
Islamic totalitarianism is not a response to misguided Western politics and Orientalist prejudice. No, it is the desperate cry of a tortured creature – often young and male – that is suffering under the yoke of outdated moralism, political despotism and economic stagnation. Yet the alternative concept – the Western ideal of a free and democratic society – is a cultural concept that is vastly superior to anything left in the Middle East. Its superiority fuels feelings of rejection and hatred.
Hatred leads to poor decisions. Our fear helps us to recognize them before terror strikes. “You love life, we love death.” – This credo, much quoted since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is better suited than any lengthy manifesto to prove the thesis about the decline of Islam. When hatred becomes strong enough to overcome the natural survival instinct, when the final meters as a walking bomb become the purpose of one’s life, Islam is deviating from its proper path. Not those who love life are erring but those who hate it. I cannot imagine that scholars the theologians of Islam would not agree with me on this point.
The defense of freedom is our task
We are now tasked with the defense of our culture of freedom. We must be alert to guard it against excessive governmental initiatives, against prejudices that brand every Turkish vegetable grocer as a potential suicide warrior. We must be alert to ensure that the fear of terror attacks does not lead to discrimination against certain parts of the population – and eventually to open hatred and rejection. If that happens, the Islamists will have won. They will have infected us with their ideology, with a religious fanaticism that frames everything as a final battle about Allah’s truth.
We are the captains of our own lives. There is no destiny, there is no determinism. Freedom is not free. “Go and shave, take a bath!” That’s what I want to yell at the fundamentalists. They would have a job in a matter of weeks. They would have a perspective for their lives that does not involve explosive belts.