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Now that recluse mathematician Grigory Perelman has proven Poincaire's Conjecture, only a few longstanding conundrums remain to be solved. To name two: Why do Western societies inevitably tend towards appeasement? Why has anti-Semitism migrated to the Left?
The answer to both questions lies in the prevalent Western view of man as a rational pleasure-seeking animal, whose life has no ultimate purpose outside itself and ends with death. As a descriptive matter, that is a fair picture of the way many members of post-Christian, Western societies live their lives.
The question, however, is: Can a society comprised primarily of such people defend itself? For those who experience their lives in this way, war will always be an irrational choice, unless the chance of being killed is very small and the potential reward very great. Only fools who believe in some transcendental values, such as the nation or democracy, or who have a very large stake in the future, will ever go to war, as long as any alternative exists.
Plummeting Western fertility rates have left ever fewer people with that kind of stake in the future. Without children to whom to bequeath the world, or a belief in an afterlife, why sacrifice oneself on the altar of the future?
Even in the face of an aggressive external threat, the rational choice will always be to placate the enemy, hopefully long enough to allow one to shuffle off this mortal coil before the bribe money runs out.
The West has delegitimized the resort to war in almost every circumstance. It enunciates rules of combat that favor non-state actors and terrorists. And its fetish with body counts reflects the belief that every resort to violence is proof of immorality. (As Binyamin Netanyahu pointed out to a BBC interviewer, Germany suffered more casualties in World War II than America and Britain combined, without thereby establishing its superior moral claim.)
The simulacrum of peace is confused with peace itself. As long as the sides are talking, all is well. Europe will still be engaging Iran in further discussions long after the latter has armed its intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads.
PLEASURE-SEEKING children of the enlightenment mistakenly view all men in their own image.They dwell in a fantasy world, in which men of goodwill can iron out all their differences over a conference table, oblivious to the real threats confronting them.
There is no room in their philosophy for a young British-born Muslim couple who intended to blow up a transatlantic airplane by igniting liquid explosive in their baby's bottle. Nor can they appreciate the impeccable religious logic of nuclear war for the Iranian mullahs. As Ayatollah Khomeini put it: Either we will annihilate all the infidels, and thereby gain our freedom, or we will die trying, and thereby attain the greater freedom of a martyr's death.
Contemplating the jihadists' logic - the logic of those who crave death - is terrifying and causes many to deny the obvious: the West is in a religious war. After Canadian police uncovered a plot to blow up the Parliament buildings and behead the prime minister, the police spokesman described the plotters as coming from a broad cross-section of society - albeit all named Muhammad or Ahmed. And the deputy commissioner of Scotland Yard called those plotting to blow up 10 airliners nothing but common criminals, at most "hiding behind certain faiths."
The intellectuals desperately grasp at the model of a grievance for every man, and a price for every grievance. They cannot acknowledge that Muslims engage in terror not to achieve any definable goal, but because terrorizing the infidels is what they do best, and doing so provides them with a sense of power otherwise absent from their thwarted lives and failed societies.
But not all goals can be reconciled, and it is not always possible to split the difference. The Islamists' goal of imposing Shari'a law on the entire world cannot find a happy modus vivendi with the West's desire to live in peace and comfort.
Even when Westerners glimpse the truth, they flee from it and quickly revert to type. Over half of Britons now view Islam itself as a threat to society. Yet flogged by the BBC, they convince themselves that Islam has grievances and those grievances can be assuaged.
The Muslim MPs and peers who audaciously warned of further terrorist attacks by native-born Muslims unless Prime Minister Tony Blair mends his foreign policy knew their audience. Britons prefer to believe that British foreign policy, not bottomless Islamic rage, breeds suicide bombers. Blair's dismal poll numbers reflect that belief.
THE CONTINUED existence of the Jewish people has always posed an insolvable problem for materialists of every stripe, from Toynbee to Marx, and caused them to rail against the Jews. Today's enlightened humanists rail against Israel in the same way. And increasingly they couch their condemnations of Israel in explicitly religious terms.
Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder and Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth both attributed Israeli bombing of Lebanon to the primitive Jewish morality of "an eye for an eye" (ignorant that the Talmud interprets the verse as referring to monetary compensation). Toynbee once declared the Jews an "atavism"; today Prof. Tony Judt calls Israel's religious-ethnic state an "anachronism" and prominent European voices bemoan Israel's creation as a costly "mistake."
Intellectuals seek to preserve their fantasy model of a world of rational game-players by turning Israel into the Islamists' only grievance and imagining an idyllic world without the Jewish state.
Just as Neville Chamberlain convinced himself that Hitler would be satisfied with the Sudetenland, so do many Western intellectuals, on far weaker evidence, imagine that the Islamists will be satisfied with Israel, and that only Israel's obstinate determination to exist prevents peace in our time.