Jeff Jacoby writes,
ELEVEN YEARS AGO, al-Qaeda terrorist Richard Reid tried to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 with a bomb hidden in his shoes. As a result, air travelers to this day must remove their shoes to pass through security at US airports.
In 2006, terrorists plotted to destroy as many as 10 planes flying from London to North America using peroxide-based liquid explosives smuggled in their carry-on luggage. So passengers now must limit any liquids they carry through security checkpoints to minuscule containers sealed in clear plastic bags.
On Christmas Day in 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit by means of an explosive device sewn into his underwear. The government’s response: full-body X-ray scans to detect even contraband concealed in one’s groin.
Our irritating, inconvenient airport security rules are one reflection of a common view that the way to prevent evil in this world — in this case, the evil of jihadist terrorism — is to intercept the instruments evildoers use. Thus, if the 9/11 hijackers used box cutters to carry out their airborne atrocities, box cutters must be barred from subsequent flights. If other terrorists find other means of committing brutal acts, we bar those means as well.
This fixation on stopping bad things — as opposed to stopping bad people or bad behavior — goes beyond keeping air travel safe from al-Qaeda …
It is fundamental to the Judeo-Christian outlook that human beings are not naturally good. “The intention of man’s heart,” God says in Genesis, “is evil from his youth.” To use the Christian formulation, man is “fallen.” All of us are tugged by conflicting moral impulses, and whether we do the right thing or the wrong thing is up to each of us.
Peace, justice, and compassion are not the natural human condition. With rare exceptions, criminal violence can’t be blamed on external culprits. Murder isn’t caused by poverty or gory videogames or low self-esteem – or guns. Nor are wars caused by nuclear missiles, or al-Qaeda terrorism by box cutters. We fool ourselves if we imagine that by fixating on missiles and box cutters we can avoid reckoning with the cruel side of human nature.
“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical,” 15-year-old Anne Frank confided to her diary on July 15, 1944. “Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death.”
Three weeks after those heartbreaking words were written, the Gestapo discovered the secret annex where Anne and seven others had been hiding. She died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp the following March.
The desire to believe, like Anne Frank, that “people are truly good at heart” is powerful. Sadly, history refutes the idea that human nature alone will make a good world. Controlling bad things may sometimes be prudent. But it is above all by controlling ourselves – by fortifying the better angels of our nature — that the struggle against evil progresses.
Indeed. We can try to protect ourselves by limiting box cutters, liquids, guns, knives, and even fists, but in the end, unless the foundations of our culture are re-established, we cannot protect ourselves from ourselves and still have our freedom intact. This was exactly what Francis Schaeffer was getting at in his series “How Should We Then Live?”
So yes, American needs laws that protects us from evil men, rather than laws which limit our freedom. But it also needs to remember why our country was founded and begin rebuilding its foundations.