This has not been a good day.


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.