Jenin on the Potomac

    "It doesn't matter who dies," the Palestinian boy told the American journalist, "just as long as they're Israeli." His father, sitting nearby, didn't try to dissuade him. Instead, referring to suicide bombing, he told the reporter, "If [my son's] time has come, he will die . . . But at least he will die for a cause. I will live the rest of my life being proud of him." What makes these words remarkable isn't the intoxication with death and killing. It's that these words weren't spoken in a refugee camp on the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. They were spoken in a café in Falls Church, Virginia, a twenty-minute drive from the White House. And the dad and son weren't recent Palestinian immigrants but the child and grandchild of immigrants. While not all of the Palestinian-Americans interviewed by NPR's Barbara Bradley volunteered to blow themselves up, every one defended and justified the actions of suicide bombers. These affluent suburban American kids told Bradley that the bombers were sending a message: "If you're going to maintain this war with us, we're going to bring the war to you." It's understandable that Americans of Palestinian descent would express support for a Palestinian state and would oppose Israel's policies toward the Palestinians. But the sentiments Bradley heard are scarcely distinguishable from what you'd expect to hear from the most extreme terrorist groups. As columnist Linda Chavez writes, "They express a contempt for the rule of law and an allegiance to an extremist, foreign ideology that is antithetical to American values." She asks, "What ever happened to old-fashioned American assimilation?" Postmodernism is what happened. For most of American history, assimilation took place within the context of a culture that believed in moral absolutes and universally applicable values. We believed that certain cultural expressions, like our democratic ideals, were better than others. But for the past few decades the idea of moral absolutes has been under assault. American ideals have been portrayed as impositions of power rather than expressions of truth. One of the results of this discarding of absolutes is what Professor Ed Veith calls "the New Tribalism." The rejection of the universal values that formed the backbone of American cultural identity sent people looking for something to take its place. For many Americans that "something" was identifying with particular racial, ethnic, or sexual groups. It didn't matter that the truth claims of these groups might strike people outside the group as wrongheaded or even monstrous. One of the tenets of postmodernism is that people in different groups can't understand each other. This is exactly what we saw on display in that café in Falls Church. Linda Chavez and others are right when they call for better efforts at assimilating Americans and, I might add, deporting those who advocate violence. But before we can assimilate them, there needs to be something to assimilate them into. Our culture has to undo the damage done by the years of the locusts -- relativism undermining absolute truth. Until then, it shouldn't surprise us that what separates kids in Washington suburbs from kids on the West Bank is how much they own, not what they think. For further reading: Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, The Christian in Today's Culture (Tyndale House, 1999). Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Crossway, 1994). Gene Edward Veith, "Postmodern Times: Facing a World of New Challenges & Opportunities," Modern Reformation, September/October 1995. Joseph Lelyveld, "All Suicide Bombers Are Not Alike," The New York Times Magazine, 28 October 2001. "Profile: Palestinian American Reactions to Events in the Middle East," All Things Considered, NPR, 10 May 2002. Linda Chavez, "Cheering for the suicide bombers in Virginia,", 14 May 2002.


Chuck Colson


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