Defining a Life

Today the surviving September 11 conspirator made his own bones. Zacarias Moussaoui declared in court that he was part of the September 11 plot, that he was to fly a plane into the White House and that he lied to the FBI in order to preserve the plot. He said that when he heard the tapes of the strikes, he felt 'ecstasy'.

Naturally the prosecutors who had come under fire for witness tampering were overjoyed. Moussaoui's defense lawyers, who did not want him to testify were pulling out their hair. The court was transfixed for his testimony. The only person who seemed nonplussed was Moussaoui himself, who has almost certainly condemned himself to death. Few thought he would deliberately throw away his life that way.

Zacarias Moussaoui did not throw away his life. He defined it in that moment. Though he survived the attack he forever made himself part of that group. His execution will not be a tragedy, but an empowering martyrdom. He expects his life in prison to end, only to be replaced by eternity in paradise, virgins available. We will all die. Moussaoui has selected his own death, and forever made himself a hero to many in the Islamic world.

What exactly did he stand to lose? Life in solitary confinement? That's not much of a life. Perhaps he might not have told such a story if he thought he might eventually be released to bomb another day, but he knew that fate would never come his way. Moussaoui chose to burn out rather than fade away.

We shouldn't be surprised by this. Religious zealots don't think the way most people do. For them this world is immaterial, a transitory stage to be endured and overcome. It is a time of testing, with the rewards paradise or perdition. Remember when Republican Secretary of the Interior James Watt said "Jesus will return when the last tree is cut down."? That's the mindset these people hold, and we need to recognize that you, I and they hold very different values.

In a year or three Zacarias Moussaoui will be lead to the death chamber, and shot full of sedatives until he falls into an eternal sleep. He will not be afraid. And that should worry us, because you cannot deter people who do not fear death.