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Terrorism and evil

I seem to have become involved in another interesting and enjoyable discussion over at Canadianna's Place. (A blog that I can't recommend highly enough for those interested in discussions that cross the left/right corridor without acrimony. I would that all blogs could do this!) I was in the process of writing a response to the post when I realized that my response growing overly-large and it was changing direction enough that it could spawn a discussion of its own right.

The topic: terrorism and evil

As you can read in the discussion at her place, which I won't reproduce here, we disagree on the use of the term "evil" in the context of Hezbollah and terrorism in general. Anna writes (emphasis mine):


It is a fiction that there is some magical 'middle ground' ---that if Israel tried hard enough -- it could click its heels and end the annihilative aims of Hizbollah and its fighters. Such a place as middle ground doesn't exist. Impartiality is evil in the face of evil. It opens the door and keeps the door wedged open for fear of stating the truth -- at no time, in no way can Hizbollah ever be 'right' or 'okay' or even tolerated. Some ideologies are wrong. To suggest negotiation or compromise is to give a terrorist group legitimacy.
I am beginning to believe that those that self-identify with the Right or the Left will also differ on the use of terms that imply moral absolutes like "good" and "evil", "right" and "wrong". To me, what I call "evil" says as much about me as it does about the creature/object/behaviour that I have decried, therefore the term is itself is too subjective to be really useful. When I use the term it does not, can not, mean the same thing when someone else uses it. What's more, when it gets used to describe a person or thing, it becomes difficult to deal with the actual reality of the subject, who very likely does not view itself as evil, and might very well not be viewed as evil by others. The use of the term "evil" is an act of obfuscation, not enlightenment.

There are many that would say with conviction that terrorism itself is an evil, and by many standards it would be true. However, terrorism really is simply a tactic, it is a method of organizing and waging war - no more evil than that. The direct targeting of civilians as a method of war is as old as time; from the Romans to the Crusades to Dresden to Hiroshima to Buchenwald to Sept. 11. All of it is by some measure evil, but they all had different genesis, and likely in every case would not have been considered evil by those performing the deeds. Are these examples "evil"? Perhaps, but maybe not, depending on the context within which each was conceived and executed; I will defend none of them. To me, the intentional killing of any person is wrong, but I expect that I could be placed in a situation in which I could willfully do it. Am I evil? I don't know.

So how does this apply to Israel/Hezbollah?

When I use the term "evil" to describe something, it blinds me to the reality of the thing that I'm describing. Evil is wrong, end of story; therefore I am less able to consider how the evil thing operates, how it was born, its context. And that makes me less able to combat it. By calling it evil, I deny its legitimacy, which unlike Canadianna above, I think is a problem. Does a thing have a right to exist, or does it indeed matter when it obviously does exist? Whether an organization is legitimate or not, should you destroy it, if it is real it can happen again, unless you deal with the underlying cause.

And the underlying causes, the motivating forces that create these groups, are unlikely to be destroyed or even weakened by large-scale deaths of civilians. There might be short-term military victory, though even that is far from guaranteed, but simply trying to "rout evil" without understanding its source is only going to produce more of it down the road.

"To me, what I call "evil" says as much about me as it does about the creature/object/behaviour that I have decried, therefore the term is itself is too subjective to be really useful"

Absolutely true. No doubt each party in the current ME conflict, have their own thoughts as to what evil is.

These black/white, good/evil debates become nothing more than an inane ping-pong game, with no rules or score.

IMO, without context, no resolution can ever be found, in the ME or, any argument. Would that all of us, could take the time to explore context...reason based on the origins of dispute, we might actually resolve something.

Good post.

The motivating forces that create these groups is the unifying desire of destruction of other human beings because they are Jews or other forms of 'infidels'.
It seems to me that their underlying raison d'etre is killing and destruction.

Their tactic might be terrorism, but their motivation is hatred -- They aren't fighting for self-preservation; they're not fighting over some patch of ground somewhere that establishes their sovereignty -- those might in some cases, in some small way, be 'legitimate' excuses to use such barbaric tactics -- these groups are fighting simply to kill.

You might prefer to call it something other than evil, but that won't make it any easier to deal with any more than diplomacy, negotiation or compromise will stop Hizbollah from launching rockets into Israel.

Canadi-anna,

"The motivating forces that create these groups is the unifying desire of destruction of other human beings because they are Jews or other forms of 'infidels'."

That is not nescsarily true. It has only been within the last 5 year that the religious overtones have crept into this. Prior to that, it was secular - the PLO is a socialist organization, not an Islamic one. And many of the supporters may not share the radical ideology as the leadership.

"They aren't fighting for self-preservation; they're not fighting over some patch of ground somewhere that establishes their sovereignty"

If you ask a Lebanese Christians, who now side with Hezbollah, they are fighting for Lebanon. If you ask Hamas, they are fighting for a Palestinian state (albeit one in which Isreal doesn't exist - Fatah fights for the same thing, only recognizing Isreal exists). Even Hezbollah, which was formed to fight the Isreali occupation of Lebanon in 1982, fights either to rid Lebanon of Isreal now or to establish a Palestinian State.

Now, not all Hezbollah are the same...some most assuredly would love to utterly destroy Isreal, some would love to establish a Palestinian state and some simply wish to push Isreal from Lebanon. I think a great many of the radicals would lose their raison d'etre and the violence would greatly subside.

Remember, this kind of radicalism is not simply the purvue of the Arabs and Muslims. There are many in Isreal, radical groups like the Kahanes and some settlers, who would be happy to kill all the arabs as well.

Terrorism is a method of war and an extreme method of political expression - it is niether good nor evil. As I stated on my blog, the actions of Haganah today would be considered the same as Hezbollah, yet are considered the brave acts of freedom fighters and patriots.

Shiek Nasrallah has offered to stop rocket attacks on Isreal if Isreal stops attacks on Lebanon. Does that sound like an offer of a person bent soley on murder? Isreal should take him up on his offer. What do they have to lose? Either Hezbollah will stop (good) or they will not (status quo) and the world will know their word is worht nothing - thus increasing support for Isreal.

Mike:
"Shiek Nasrallah has offered to stop rocket attacks on Isreal if Isreal stops attacks on Lebanon. Does that sound like an offer of a person bent soley on murder?"

I agree with your analysis, my question though is, does Nasrallah hold the sway to hold to that vow? I have searched and searche and cannot acurately determine just how much influence he actually holds, regarding the militia.

Sorry, kinda veering from the topic.

I have a hard time believing that the majority of those that support Hamas or Hezbollah really are bent on the destruction of Israel and/or all things Jewish. There are doubtlessly some core radicals that set the political agenda and these are dangerous. However, as Mike points out, many people probably support them for different reasons, more local,less offensive, and perhaps even mundane.

I think the most crucial thing is to win the support of these people - turn them against Hezbollah and Lebanon has a chance of taking control of its country again.

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