Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Face of Evil

A sobering quartet of articles illustrate a point that is too often diluted by attempts at rationalization and explication instead of residing where it ought: in the visceral. Because we haven't been hit again since 9/11, we don't regard the War on Terror as an existential battle. And it's not--for us. But our Islamist opponents have dedicated themselves body, mind, and soul to our destruction.

It is a construct of our civilized, generally secular modernism that no one man can be judge, jury, and executioner. We also strive mightily to provide due process for the worst members of our society. But, the Islamists aren't from our society. Ralph Peters provides an interesting intellectual exercise: Let's suppose that each nation-state is a different planet. Instead of assuming a common humanity, let's regard these extraterrestrials totally objectively, and then decide on the best course of action on how to deal with them.

We are facing pure, unadulterated evil. This is hard to grasp, especially when the ideology of the evildoers ostensibly issues from the religion of peace. I think most of us born and bred in the secular, modern west have a hard time grasping the concept of evil. And, too, it's hard to stand up against evil in our modern times without sounding like someone indulging in self-righteous bigotry or xenophobia. Part of the problem is our lexicon. What's the opposite of evil? Good? Good vs. bad, we get. Good vs. evil? The problem with "good" is that good isn't perfect. So if we're generally good, but with the fundamental flaws that come with the human condition, aren't our enemies? Isn't it possible that we misunderstand their words? Don't they want to find a negotiated peace where we can celebrate the "goodness" we have in common while we all work together to fix our flaws? Plus, if we're not perfect, then who are we to judge? Aren't our enemies just like us, just forced into terrorism as a tactic because of their fundamental inability to peaceably reconcile their differences with us?

No. They are evil. They revel in it. They are not human beings as we understand the word. Despite all the atrocities we've seen spooled across the news, this is still a hard concept to grasp, because our opponents desires and motivations are so alien.

Judea Pearl's son Daniel was brutally, horrifically murdered. He has seen, to his dismay, our society "define deviancy down" when it comes to terrorism. And he warns that we fail to identify evil as what it is at our own physical and moral peril.

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