are fighting the war on terror with technology and weapons, but one man
says Americans are lacking the strongest, most effective
Natan Sharansky, author of Defending Identity and the New York Times best-seller The Case for Democracy, spoke about the importance of attaining a sense of identity in a democratic society at the Heritage Foundation on June 3.
“Identity, a life of commitment, is essential because it satisfies a
human longing to become part of something bigger than oneself,”
Sharanksy wrote in his book Defending Identity.
Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident, prisoner and recipient of
America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in
2006, said that some people around the world, including terrorists, are
willing to die to sustain their identities and backgrounds.
“There are things that are more important than immediate physical
existence; there are things which are more meaningful,” said Sharansky,
who served as minister and deputy prime minister on the Israeli cabinet.
Without a clear sense of identity, freedom is not guaranteed, Sharansky
argued. “…Without commitment and without energy, which your identity is
giving to you, you won’t be able to fight for freedom,” said Sharansky.
Terrorists have a defined purpose, because their identities are
defined, and identity is crucial for success, according to Sharansky.
“The enemy’s will is strong because his identity is strong,” wrote
Sharansky in his book. “Not only are strong identities vitally
important to individuals who hope to lead a life of purpose, they are
essential for the ability of a democratic nation to defend its
And defending “cherished freedoms” means understanding that a sense of
identity is positive and crucial in today’s multi-cultural world, said
“Far from being enemies, freedom and identity are stanch allies in the
struggle against evil,” said Sharansky. “Indeed, only by building
societies where both democracy and identity can flourish can we ensure
a peaceful world.”
And to attain an identity and maintain peace, people must first learn
the values of selflessness and vision, according to Sharansky.
“Those who feel a connection to ideals and values beyond the individual
self, who believe that they are participating in a grand collective
adventure, and who are convinced that they are acting on behalf of past
and future generations are prepared to make great individual
sacrifices,” said Sharansky.
Sacrifice and identity are rare in Europe. One man at the Heritage
Foundation even questioned Western Europe’s move from identity to
relativism and individualism. The move toward individualism is because
Europeans do not pledge their allegiance to democracy, Sharansky said.
“In Europe, all identities are equal. Today in London, where they’re
preaching hatred toward democracy, you’re paralyzed,” said Sharansky.
“You can’t do anything. Europe…is making more integration instead of
imposing rules of democracy.”
Democracy and identity have both played a crucial part in the war against terror, according to Sharansky.
“Americans believed they were liberating citizens of Iraq, but they
forgot that they were eliminating Sunni and Shia citizens,” said
Sharansky. “The moment you remove dictatorship, these different
identities will come to the surface.”
Identity surpasses almost everything in the physical world, Sharansky said.
“…Identity offers a sense of life beyond the physical and material, beyond mere personal existence,” said