Liberty Yell: Something Besides the Cult of Death?

By Matthew Sperling on Nov 16, 2015 at 09:31 AM in Liberty Yell, Featured Essays

Leadership requires thought.

The obvious response, the knee-jerk reaction to the events in Paris, would be to attack the perpetrators. Their hideous violence should be met with more of the same, and this is what has already happened. France and the U.S. have attacked the supposed capital of the Islamic State, Raqaa in Syria.

Something Besides the Cult of Death

Our leaders have done the obvious, instead of the necessary. It is necessary to damage an enemy and to prevent further attacks by that enemy. Bombing a single target, no matter how satisfying it might feel to do that, merely scratches the surface.

Violence to prevent more violence may become part of a viable policy, but it is a terrible short-term strategy. This is especially true when the target of that strategy is a terrorist group. The very nature of such a group is to be dispersed. How do you destroy a group that can disappear into the general population?

There are, for now, some obvious targets to attack, but Islamic State is not going to be obliterated by air strikes or even by a ground operation. Even if we--the West and allied nations which are the targets of this group--could drive them from the current field of battle, it might only be for a short period of time. The hatred and stupidity shown by Islamic State must be cured by something other than an equivalent hatred and stupidity. Here is where “leadership requires thought” must be carefully applied.

Islamic State is a reactionary group. That is, they exist as a reaction to contact with Western culture. The members of this group feel powerless against a culture which insults, in their opinion, their most strongly held beliefs. There is nothing unusual about this. Christianity and Judaism are among the religions offering us a parade of hard-line religious believers. So, if we fight this as a holy war--which is definitely how the believers in Islamic State see it--we will be fighting on their terms. How intelligent is that?

Our civilization, the one that has produced miracles of science and glories of art and literature, has to do better than a bunch of cranks who have lashed themselves to a world view which was more or less current a thousand years ago. That is the world we want to give to our children? “Here, kids. Welcome to the New Dark Ages.”

For all of our progress--including justice for people of all races, religions and creeds; an end to slavery and child labor; the vote for women (equal pay for equal work, still to come); equal rights for people of all sexual persuasions; a growing awareness that nature needs to be protected from some of our acquisitive habits; you carry on with the list demonstrating our enlightenment--we still seem to go to clubbing our “enemies” to death, as we believe the need arises.

There is a beautiful idea that we should turn the other cheek in response to an assault. This, in my opinion, only works if that assault does not lead to serious damage or death. In other words, turning the other cheek to the Islamic State is not an option. Nor should it be an option for us to depend on military maneuvers as the best way to acquire our safety, especially when there are less violent options which might be equally or even more effective.

We know that Islamic State operates from the darkest corners of human thought, so what does it mean to shine a light into those corners? It means, at last, we pull ourselves together and enter that time in history when we make planetary-wide decisions. (At the end of this essay, you will find the preambles to the United Nations Charter and also to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are beautifully written, perfectly clear and immensely useful as a foundation for human civilization.)

Sometimes we need to defend ourselves with a finger on the trigger. And sometimes, maybe at the same time, we need to put our hands and minds to work creating the world we want to live in when we are fortunate enough to live at peace. This means that peace is an effort as great as or greater than war. Without that understanding, we will lurch from battle to battle, as we have done for most of recorded history.


  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,


Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, 

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations, 

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, 

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, 

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge, 

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.