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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pyrrhic Win for the Future of Civilization

President Vladimir Putin kept his word and wasted the terrorists. Not in the outhouse as promised, it's true, but in the orchestra pit.

The West expressed its support.

The reason for this support was the West's unexpected discovery that it is waging a third world war against Islamic extremism. In that war, just as in World War II, wild and rather uncivilized Russia turns out to be an ally.

Sometime around the 19th century, the civilized world lived in a state of metaphysical security. People sailed on steamships and wrote operas, and somewhere off on the periphery there were wild Indians and naked Negroes. It would have been impossible to imagine that black terrorists from the Congo would seize the Titanic, or that Chechen bandits, whom valiant Alexei Yermolov was battling somewhere down in the Caucasus, would burst into a St. Petersburg ball and shout "hands up" to the ladies in hoop skirts.

But for millenia before that the scenario was entirely different. Major civilizations were surrounded by barbarian nations and wound up being overrun by them -- Egypt by the Hyksos, Rome by the Visigoths and the Han Empire by the Hsiung-nu.

Ataulphus, chieftain of the Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410 AD, offered the best explanation of why major civilizations fall prey to barbarians: "It is not right that the pampered and cowardly wear beautiful clothes and eat splendid dishes while the brave and proud have nowhere to rest their heads."

An anti-cyclone of bold marauders full of childish envy for other people's things formed around every civilization. As Rashid ad-Din, 13th century Persian statesman and author of a universal history, wrote of the Mongols: "Amongst their plunder they found a silver cradle and bedspreads woven of gold, and as such luxury items were rare among the Mongols at this time, the event was considered important and became quite well known."

For millenia civilizations perished under pressure from admirers of cradles and bedspreads, and this came to an end only with the invention of firearms. A highly developed culture came to mean not luxury but technological might.

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At the end of the 20th century, everything came full circle. The infrastructure of post-industrial society reached such a level of complexity that it became a weapon in itself.

The weapon of the third world war is not the nuclear bomb, but the civilian airliner and the theater. This is a guerrilla war in which Islamic extremists are using the civilized world's own infrastructure against it.

The guerrillas believe that Islam should assume a leading position in the world, and that their enemies are enemies of Allah. But the real convictions of the shakhidy are very similar to those laid out by Ataulphus 16 centuries ago: "Why do these pampered cowards in their skyscrapers have everything, while we, who are prepared to die, have nothing?"

I have no intention of indiscriminately knocking Islam, but for some reason we haven't seen Shintoist terrorists. The snipers captured in Washington had accepted Islam, not Buddhism.

The paradox of the third world war is that the terrorists cannot win. If they did, there would be no one to produce the weapons they like to use --airplanes and musicals.

But Western civilization -- which in this case includes Russia -- could lose. Because the two basic values of Western civilization are democracy and respect for the life and rights of the individual. In time of war, society is forced to ignore these values, as the Russian special forces commandos were forced to ignore the possibility that hostages would die as a result of the gas attack.

The question is not whether or not the West will win the war. The question is rather whether it will still be the West when it does.

Yulia Latynina is author and host of "Yest Mneniye" on TVS.