9/11, five years later

Five years ago, confronted by the rubble in lower Manhattan, the smoldering wreckage at the Pentagon, and the debris of United 93, most Americans instinctively, and correctly, understood that the country was at war. But with what? Or whom? What was at stake, and what passions motivated an enemy who struck in this way?

Those questions have been debated with the vigor appropriate to a mature democracy for the past half-decade. Recent events in Lebanon should have had a clarifying effect on the debate. Our enemies may call this the latest round of “Islam vs. the Crusaders.” We should name it for what it is: the global war against radical Islamic jihadism, which aims at nothing less than the submission of the entire world, by violence if necessary, to what it understands to be the will of Allah.

That the war is global can no longer be doubted. It is inaccurate to speak of the “Afghanistan War” or the “Iraq War,” or “the war in Lebanon,” as if these were discrete incidents. They are different fronts in the same war. And whether the enemy is Sunni radicalism or Shia radicalism (or an alliance of convenience between the two), the enemy’s strategic purpose is the same: to impose Islam for its own sake (because this is what Allah requires of the faithful) and/or to hasten the end of days, the appearance of the Twelfth Imam, and the kingdom to come.

As for the most recently opened front, Hizbollah has never needed much excuse to lob rockets into Israel, deliberately targeting women and children. In this instance, however, one of Hizbollah’s motivations was to deflect international attention from Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, just as the G8, the U.N., and even the European Union were preparing to bring serious pressure to bear on Tehran. To repeat: the same war is being fought on multiple fronts, not unlike like the world wars of the twentieth century.

Five years after 9/11, and facing an adversary prepared to carry on the struggle for decades, even centuries, the peoples of the West, while retaining our distinctive commitment to moral self-examination and self-criticism, must shed the bad habit of gratuitous self-flagellation. British Prime Minister Tony Blair put this well in a speech in Los Angeles last month:

“…it is almost incredible to me that so much of Western opinion appears to buy the idea that the emergence of this global terrorism is somehow our fault…No one who even half bothers to look at the spread and range of activity related to terrorism can fail to see its presence in virtually every major nation in the world. It is directed at the United States and its allies, of course. But it is also directed at nations who could not conceivably be said to be allies of the West. It is also rubbish to suggest that it is the product of poverty. It is true [that] it will use the cause of poverty. But its fanatics are hardly the champions of economic development. It is based on religious extremism. That is the fact. And not any religious extremism, but a specifically Muslim version.”

The West must also recognize the stakes in this war, which are nothing less than the moral truths at the heart of our civilization: the inviolability of innocent human life; the sanctuary of religious conscience; the dignity of the human person as the bearer of inalienable rights; the moral superiority of consent over coercion as a political method. Radical jihadism denies every one of these truths, and indeed regards them as abominations. I’d suggest substituting “moral truths” for that overused and slippery term “values;” but do that, and I think Prime Minister Blair defined the stakes correctly when he told his audience that “what is happening today out in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and beyond, is an elemental struggle about the values that will shape our future.” Nothing less than that is at issue.

This is a mid-1930s moment. The adversary is energized and ruthless; it has its apologists; it counts on our weakness. The West must not make the mistake of appeasement again.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.