There is that knee jerk part of me that not only wanted to see Zaccarias Moussaoui put to death, but wanted it to happen in a particularly painful way. The rational and civilized part of me, of course, is horrified by that that thought.
The biggest part of me, however, is glad he got a life sentence instead. Why? Because it galls me to think that by imposing the death sentence we would have given him exactly what he wanted – martyrdom.
It is clear from following the stories about this man that he is an incompetent bumbler who, if he’d actually managed to get on a plane on 9/11, would probably have accidentally locked himself in the bathroom and tried to use the hot and cold faucets to bring the plane down. His history certainly makes him sound like a wannabe braggart who made everyone who dealt in the secret preparations for 9/11 very nervous.
So why should we have given him the martyrdom he couldn’t achieve for himself? Why should we have given him the one thing his incompetent life denied him – credibility? By executing him and making him a martyr who would find those 72 aging virgins supposedly waiting for him, we would have given him standing and stature that he does not deserve. We would have made him what he could not make himself – a sacrifice to the cause of religious extremism.
How much better it is to imprison him for life. Yes, he’s going to be living off our taxpayers’ dollars. But he’s also going to be forced to sit around and watch his cause come crashing down around his ears. Because make no mistake about it, Islamic extremism will eventually flame out and crash to the ground, burning as badly as the Twin Towers once did.
No philosophy based on murder, mayhem and destruction can long survive no matter how strong it feels at the moment. As my driver in Vietnam, a veteran of their war told me about the new generation growing up, “They aren’t interested in the revolution. They just want jeans and rock and roll.”
Radical Islam is more deadly in many ways than the enemies we have faced in the past if only because they are not so easily pinned down to a group or location. But eventually the fun of blowing everyone and everything up is bound to wane. Eventually a generation will grow up wondering where their piece of the pie is and why the only answer their elders have to getting it is dying. If we let Moussaoui live long enough, he’ll see Western and Eastern cultures come to a living accommodation that is unthinkable in today’s reality. But then, when I was growing up in the fifties, it was unthinkable that we would ever be trading partners with the “yellow horde” that was just waiting on our borders to take over and destroy our way of life.
So let Moussaoui live in a maximum-security facility where his roommate will hopefully be a big beefy guy named Bubba who’s very lonely. Will he eventually give up his radical beliefs and admit to errors in his thinking? Maybe even express some sorrow for the death and destruction he helped to cause? I doubt it. To do so would be to admit to a completely wasted life and he can’t really afford that.
But deep in his heart as he watches America not only survive but continue to prosper; as he watches Europe continue to mend relationships that for hundreds of years caused so much warfare on that continent; as he watches his Islamic faith reclaimed by adherents who understand the peace Mohammed was really preaching; it will occur to him that none of his dreams will ever be likely to come true.
I want him to experience that. I want him to know that despair. I want him to understand how thoroughly and completely the ideals of freedom for all peoples will prevail in this world and how thoroughly fanatical religious extremists who kill in the name of a loving god are repudiated, not only by the world at large but ultimately by their own people.
I think I’ll get much more satisfaction if he gets to spend a lifetime behind bars in America watching his insane cause go down in flaming defeat than I would in watching his death. The judge was right. He doesn’t deserve to die with a bang. He deserves to die alone, with less than a whimper.