It's pretty common for wise, experienced adults to admonish children not to "sink down to the level" of whomever is antagonizing the child, be it a bully at school or an annoying sibling. This is generally a good policy, because in most cases nothing but ego and convenience are at stake. Most disagreements are entirely pointless and should be avoided with the minimum of fuss; maintaining a polite and honorable demeanor and reputation is generally more important than winning.
However, a recent post by Clayton Cramer about why we must win the war on terror prompted me to point out that sometimes it's more important to win than to maintain your principles. Mr. Cramer points to a post by Eugene Volokh who describes a Dutch court decision that forced a Dutch citizen out of her apartment because her neighbors were afraid that the Islamic terrorists who threatened to kill her would also kill them in the process. Writes Mr. Cramer:
She was relocated by the Dutch government into a high security apartment--and now her neighbors have successfully sued to force her to move out, because of their understandable concern about their own safety. The rationale for this was the European Treaty on Human Rights.
Now, there's some troubling aspects to this. Why should the neighbors have to live in fear that Islamofascists are going to blow up MP Hirsi Ali's apartment--and kill them as well? But at what point does this turn into a situation where the Islamofascists get to use their threats to hound Hirsi Ali out of her adopted country (as she apparently is beginning to think she will have to do)?
This is going to be very troubling to a lot of people on the left end of the spectrum, but it appears that Islamofascism and human rights are mutually exclusive, not just in one country, but on this planet. You can have one, or you can have the other, but not both. I'm not sure that there is a solution here that doesn't involve truly horrifying violations of Western norms of religious freedom--and that, after all, is probably the Islamofascist goal--to force us down to their level of barbarism.
It would be unfortunate, even terrible, if Western Civilization is forced into temporary barbarity by Islamofascist terrorists, but if the only alternative is destruction then we have to be strong enough to make that choice. All war is inherently barbaric, but America has spent the last several decades pursuing the luxury of the "civilized" war in which no one but soldiers is killed, and of those as few as possible. Our vast wealth and technological superiority has put us in a position where we can use military force more humanely than has ever been possible, but in the process I'm afraid that we've deluded ourselves into thinking that every war can be fought so cheaply. And I'm not talking about "cheap" in terms of money, but in terms of blood and liberty.
This War on Terror is a religious war in the minds of our enemies, the fanatical Islamofascists who target not only infidels but also their own Muslim brethren who do not adhere to as extreme an ideology. Ignoring the spiritual dimension of this conflict is foolish, even for a secular humanist, because if the Islamofascists win atheists will be at the front of the line for beheadings.
So yes, it will be tragic if we in the West are forced to descend into barbarity to defeat those who would destroy us. I hope we are powerful enough to continuously maintain the luxury of liberty while we fight for our survival, but the more we hesitate and retreat from what is necessary now the more liberties we will have to sacrifice later when the threat to our existence has drawn even closer. "Give me liberty or give me death!" is a noble, necessary cry for an individual in defense of his nation, but not for the nation itself as a whole. Even if we must constrain our freedoms to ensure victory, we can always reclaim them. Even if we must "sink to their level", the light of liberty can never be extinguished, particularly not among a people who hold it so dearly.