Fast Forward to 2051

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September 11, 2006

It's September 11, 2051 and I write to you from jail. I know this letter will never be published, for the free press and religious freedom are friendly ghosts of the almost-forgotten past.

But one day, someone will clear out my cell. Perhaps they will take the time to read and learn from what I now recall.

Fifty years ago today, at this hour, I was preparing to board an early-morning plane to Boston, Massachusetts. Applying a method I had picked up from business travellers, I hid a young, but tired face behind an open newspaper as I sipped the morning's first brew and savoured the relative quiet.

Then, a firm voice, like a specialty alarm clock for deep sleepers, pierced the cultivated silence:

“A national emergency has shut down air traffic. All domestic and international flights have been cancelled. No further information is available. I repeat….”

My gut told me this would be my generation's John F. Kennedy moment.

I was wrong. Our moment of shock and sadness would become something more than a freakish generation marker. We now know September 11, 2001 was D-Day for modern humanity, the morning the world confronted, face-to-face, an enemy that would test the quality and strength of its soul.

Who can forget those first few weeks and months? American flags waved in New York, but also in Madrid, Paris, London, Rome, Moscow, Cairo, Tokyo, and Sydney. For a while, we were all Americans.

Islamic fundamentalists had started a war, and the free world joined hands and vowed to finish it. The United States led with courage and many followed. There were victories — many victories — and the world was safer than before.

The splintered enemy hunkered down and held on. They provoked us and waited for us to make mistakes of hubris and miscalculation — the kind that shake Western polls. To their glee, we made them in spades.

For much of Europe, the pressure was simply too great, so they feigned philosophy:

“What exactly are we fighting for?”
“Why are the bad guys bad?”

Americans fell for Europe's whining. Not the soldiers, of course. It was the politics at home. Heated debates and healthy criticism about the justification of the invasion and continued mission in Iraq spiralled into shameless amnesia and naïveté about terrorism itself.

“Did we start this?” “What if we just tweak our foreign policy?”

The enemy tried tirelessly to remind us who they were. In videos and on the Internet, they flaunted their cause.

“This is jihad. Convert to Islam or you will die.”

Many spectators were still unsure.

“Who are they?” they wondered aloud. “Do they really hate us?”

So the terrorists answered by blowing up trains in London and Madrid, wedding receptions in Jordan, tourist bazaars in Cairo, synagogues in Istanbul, and hotels in Indonesia — and they did it all under the same name and for the same cause.

By now, five years had gone by. It was 2006 and the world was divided. Active world leaders captured the nature and potency of the foe. These were religious impostors, ideologues who knew neither reason nor restraint. Some politicians responded by investing in long-term security. Others turned a blind eye and hoped the “big one” would occur on someone else's watch.

Aspiring politicians, for their part, promised peace without sacrifice. They could pull back our military and convince the terrorists to stop it already.

This was the political tug-of-war that dominated the first decade of the new millennium, and it was important.

But under the radar, another debate was brewing — one that proved more important and decisive than any party platform, foreign policy, or military strategy. While a few statesmen spoke of the real ideological nature of the enemy, nobody dared to compare it to our own foundational ideas or reaffirm the moral fabric of the homeland. Nobody explained the real reasons why the flag was worth defending.

By 2025, Europe had officially denied its Christian roots. In the name of tolerance and diversity, it had separated human values from morality and morality from God. The result was a stifling dictatorship of moral and religious relativism. In the minds of the youth, there was now, in effect, no such thing as absolute good or bad. Democracy, for example, was optional like everything else, and then it just disappeared. At first, nobody seemed to care.

The United States was behind the times, thank God. Well-organized groups of citizens saw what was happening in our courts, schools, and in the halls of government. America was losing its soul. Even the non-religious — the honest and reflective ones — perceived that erasing the face of God from the public square would endanger real tolerance and diversity. As a whole, Americans recognized that freedom of choice was not a license to do whatever felt good. They instinctively knew there had to be limits.

But they didn't know why or even what those limits should be. Tragically, there were no teachers and no wise men or women to explain that the inviolable dignity of the human person, and the rights and obligations that flow from it, is the only sure reference point for freedom — and that it is not just a Western thing.

So, the splintered enemy hunkered down and held on.

The political debate continued, but it increasingly became empty and tiresome. There were no compelling causes for which to die, because fewer citizens had a compelling cause for which to live.

Our souls were hollow at this point, and that, in my opinion, was the real reason we lost the war on terror.

If someone happens to read this and I am long gone, I would only hope that you allow history to be your teacher. A soulless culture is defenseless and, ultimately, in decline.

God bless, Father Jonathan

A note to the readers: The good news is that we are not in 2051, and that five years after 9/11 America is very strong. The scenario above is fictional, but not impossible. The internal battle for the American soul, in my opinion, is equally important as fighting the enemies who attack it from without. Do you agree?

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