The Washington Times

I have an ambition for the heirs of Osama bin Laden, or at any rate, his spiritual heirs, or the sons and for that matter the daughters of those heirs, however long it takes. I would like for them to become televangelists, in the fashion of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Shortly after Sept. 11, the Revs. Falwell and Robertson distinguished themselves as the most noxious voices on the right of the American political spectrum with this colloquy on Mr. Robertson’s “700 Club” program on his Christian Broadcasting Network:

Of the terror attacks days before, Mr. Falwell bizarrely volunteered: “The ACLU’s got to take a lot of the blame for this.” Mr. Robertson agreed: “Well, yes.” Mr. Falwell went on: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’ ” Mr. Robertson said amen: “Well, I totally concur.”

They have since quasi-apologized for their remarks, Mr. Robertson offering the excuse that he didn’t really understand what Mr. Falwell was saying at the time, and Mr. Falwell offering an If-anybody-took-offense-I’m-sorry-they-were-offended exercise in damage control. I, for one, expect damage control in response to this spectacularly offensive episode is going to be an exercise in futility. Messrs. Falwell and Robertson are finished in American politics. If any serious GOP politician or candidate makes the mistake of doing anything but steering well clear of these two from this day forward, such a politician must understand that he is going to pay a serious price for the association, marginalizing himself and drastically limiting his future prospects.

But neither do I expect Messrs. Falwell and Robertson to disappear. No doubt they can console themselves reading the e-mail congratulating them for telling it like it is and by cashing the checks from the stalwarts who remain (buying “Pat’s Age-Defying Antioxidants” at cbn.com, maybe). Business will be slow for a while, but perhaps it will pick up.

Which brings us back to Osama and his heirs. Based on his appearances on al Jazeera TV, bin Laden has grievances with American moral degeneracy also, and he, too, regards the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and ongoing terror as a judgment of God. The difference is that he has cast himself in the role of God’s agent in killing the wicked.

There is a gulf of civilization separating Mr. Falwell from decent Americans who couldn’t imagine blaming their countrymen for the terror attack. But even this is small compared to the vast gulf of civilization that separates bin Laden and Mr. Falwell. Mr. Falwell lives in a time and place in which those harboring his view of fellow human beings are constrained to express it in the marketplace. I mean market in several senses, but first of all literally, in the commercial sense. There will, for a while to come anyway, probably be ample rewards for those best able to articulate this point of view, on account of its lingering (if diminishing) resonance with some Americans. But it is also a religious “marketplace,” where people are free to listen or not, to practice Mr. Falwell’s religion or any other. And likewise we have a political marketplace, where political ideas and personalities compete for influence (though as I indicated, I think Mr. Falwell’s days of political influence are over).

We long for the day – in fact, we are working toward the day – when the Middle East, and the Islamic world more broadly, are brought into alignment with that segment of elite Muslim opinion that has already fully embraced the modern world and its principles of free expression, pluralism and liberty. Surely the vast majority of Muslims, to the extent they do not already harbor such modern yearnings for an ordinary, peaceful life, will come around to that view once it becomes clear that we, too, are deadly serious. We will meet with force anyone acting in the name of Islam or anything else to try to destroy those principles. Everyone needs to understand that the alternative to the modern world is to opt out of it peacefully, not to bring it down.

Some of the old hatred and anger will certainly remain – now, however, defanged, its own adherents no longer willing to act on their anger by killing, their violence only metaphorical. For them, and to the great pecuniary benefit of its lucky proprietors, there will be Osama TV – on the cable lineup throughout the Middle East alongside Al Jazeera, CNN, the Food Channel and the Christian Broadcasting Network.