The liberal state is awestruck, and often paralyzed, in the face of evil. We shiver when we hear a Taliban or al Qaeda warrior boast, “We worship death and you worship life.” To seek death over life is to gain mastery over those who love life. That’s why the suicide bomber is such a fearsome weapon. In fact, peace-loving people are prepared to fight, and risk death, to preserve everything that makes life worth living. Yet there is a terrible insight in that death-swagger. When our cherishing of each life leads us to surrender to blackmail, we fortify the death-cult; we abet evil.
One wishes, of course, for some sort of Gotterdammerung out of Inglourious Basterds, in which the former victims rise up to give the monsters a taste of their terrible medicine. That’s what the movies are for. In real life, Obama has done what he can do by sending American warplanes to hammer IS positions in Iraq. For the moment, at least, he has saved Kurdistan from being overrun, and driven the jihadists away from the Mosul Dam. That’s a very good start. There may be nothing Obama can do to save Steven Sotloff. But there is a great deal he can do to show the criminals of the Islamic State that the West is prepared to defend the values it professes.