Columns, Politics
Jan 12, 2015
For The Daily Beast: Extremism Is Our Untreatable Cancer

It all started back in November 1979. We couldn’t do much about extremism then, and it seems we can do even less now.

Extremism Is Our Untreatable Cancer

By early November 1979, America was exhausted. The ever-shrinking president, Jimmy Carter, had been attacked by a rabbit while running and that July had taken to the television to tell us the country was suffering from a breakdown, that a malaise had seized the land.

Interest rates looked like major league batting averages. Long lines formed at gas stations because Saudi Arabia and OPEC decided to yank the chain of “The Great Satan” by slowing oil production and exports. A meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility had threatened to turn half of Pennsylvania into a green night light.

Then, on Nov. 4, 1979, the forebears of the three murderers killed last week in Paris by police gathered in a mob outside the American embassy in Tehran, stormed the building, captured nearly all inside and held 42 citizens of the United States hostage for 444 days.

Both ABC News’ Nightline with Ted Koppel and our modern age of terror were born. A lot has happened between then and now: In October 1983, 220 Marines were killed in Beirut by suicide bombers claiming to represent some outfit they called Islamic Jihad, with more Marines dying that day than had been killed in the first week of the Tet Offensive in February 1968. Embassies in Africa were attacked over the next decade. In October 2000, the USS Cole was blown up while at port in Yemen, killing 17 U.S. sailors. Through all of it, threaded between each attack, was the whispered name of Osama bin Laden. Then came September 11.

Now we have the latest assault on civilization: Paris, where the casualty list is filled with the innocent who, once again, died simply because they went to work. Cartoonists, writers, police officers, shoppers, caught and killed by three men driven insane by their own inadequacies.

“These guys were barking mad,” former Sen. Bob Kerrey said the other day. “But whenever something like this happens we always hear and read about the roots of youth disenfranchisement in the Middle East and there is a lot of that, too much of it. Too much unemployment and hopelessness. No doubt about it.

“But guess what: There is a lot of youth disenfranchisement in Latin America and right here in the United States and they’re not walking around killing people in the name of their religion.”

Bob Kerrey served two terms in the United States Senate. He was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and, later, the 9/11 Commission.

“The fact is that Muslim leaders are going to have to face up to the violence that is smearing and staining their religion,” Kerrey was saying. “In too many parts of the world, religious leaders are standing in pulpits on Friday night suggesting that violence is OK.

“And what they’ve done and what they continue to do is give rise and reason to a whole new army. It’s not like it used to be in ‘the old world’ as we once knew it. They don’t wear uniforms in their army anymore. The war is all up there in their head, and it’s going to take a long time for us to combat that.

“I don’t know if the Muslim leadership can face it but that’s the reality of their task. They have to address the cancer within, publicly and loudly.”

Over the past few days, the streets of Paris and many other cities around the world have been filled with people standing in outrage over the slaughter that occurred in the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. That is where the now-dead Kouachi brothers walked in with the nonchalance of mailmen and opened fire on the staff because of cartoons that had appeared in the magazine’s pages. The thought of turning the page or not buying the book was apparently too much for their diseased minds to grasp.

So today the phrases “Je suis Charlie” and “I am Charlie” ring the globe. Yet it has somewhat of a hollow echo because in some quarters, especially in America, the threat to speech, no matter how offensive and the cartoons in question were clearly on the border of outrageous, is bold and quite present. Former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was recently booed from the stage and prevented from speaking at Brown University, where he was going to talk about policing and protecting our largest city; “Je suis Ray Kelly?”

This war on terror that now engulfs the world, this clash of cultures and civilizations, this riot of religious zealotry that has claimed far too many while unfairly maligning too many of its members, has been a weight we’ve carried and conducted for decades. Drones and SEAL Team Six and all the battalions of stable nations combined can only combat it to a draw. No military weapon in the arsenal is capable of killing a disease, a warped ideology wrapped and camouflaged within a religion hijacked and used by stone-cold, mentally ill killers who arrive with gun, bomb, and suicide vest proclaiming a false cause.