What we can’t not know, six years after 9/11

Six years after 9/11, there are certain things we can’t not know. We may wish these things weren’t true. We can try to ignore them. But safe passage through a moment in history fraught with both danger and possibility requires us to see things as they are.

What can’t we not know?

We can’t not know the name of the enemy: the name is jihadism, that form of Islamic extremism which teaches that it is the duty of every Muslim to use any means available to advance the prospects of a world that acknowledges the sovereignty of Allah and lives under shari’a law. That jihadists are a small minority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims is both true and irrelevant. What counts is cultural morale, and the morale of jihadists may be higher today than it was six years ago.

We can’t not know that jihadists read history through the prism of their theological convictions. The West, tutored by a progressive view of history, read the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as a victory for freedom. Jihadists read it as a victory for jihadism, a Phase One triumph in an ongoing war against the infidels. Phase Two, which jihadists imagined might be easier than Phase One, had the United States as its target. Attacks on American embassies in East Africa in the mid-1990s were intended to trigger a struggle in which the United States would be defeated as the Soviet Union was defeated in Phase One. When that didn’t work, jihadists blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole as it was refueling in the harbor at Aden. When that didn’t elicit the expected response, Osama bin Laden concluded that an outrage impossible for the Americans to ignore as required. Thus 9/11.

Bin Laden got one thing wrong, and we can’t not know that, either: he hadn’t reckoned on the robust response of those allegedly decadent Americans, first in Afghanistan, later in Iraq. As the dean of western scholars of Islam, Bernard Lewis, has written, “it is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since…the U.S. actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq indicated that there had been a major change in the U.S…” But now, closely watching our politics and monitoring our national morale, jihadists like bin Laden may, Lewis suggests, be returning to their original assessment of American fecklessness – and may conclude “that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory.” A determination to make clear that this re-assessment is wrong ought to be the threshold test of seriousness applied to any presidential or congressional candidate in 2008. For, as Lewis concludes, if the jihadists’ reassessment is proven right, “the consequences – both for Islam and for America – will be deep, wide, and lasting.”

Another thing we can’t not know is that the war against jihadism is for the long haul: it won’t be resolved in the next administration, or in the next three administrations. Staying power – rooted in the conviction that religious freedom, tolerance and civility, the rule of law, and the method of persuasion in politics reflect universal moral truths – is essential to victory.

Moreover, we can’t not know that this long-term war against jihadism has to be fought on multiple fronts, many of them non-military. Interreligious dialogue is one such front. It ought to focus (as Benedict XVI suggested last December) on helping Islamic reformers assimilate the positive accomplishments of the Enlightenment – like the separation of religious and political authority in the modern state. Cleaning up our own cultural act is another, non-military front in this struggle: a country whose principal exports include pornography is not in a particularly strong moral position in a struggle against a religiously-shaped alternative vision of human goods.

Prayer for the conversion of our enemies is yet another “front” in the war that has been declared upon us. Yet I’ve heard very few, if any, such prayers in the past six years. Their necessity is one more thing we can’t not know.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”