Evil's Advantage Over Conscience
Why the West gives Yasser Arafat endless second chances.
by Norman Doidge
...When dealing with Arafat, even the foes of terror become inconsistent and incoherent.
The archetypal releaser of Arafat is a leader who has criticized him many times, has shown himself capable of the assertive use of deadly force in other situations, and, like Reagan, Bush, Begin, Sharon, Rabin, and Barak, has criticized others for letting terrorists go free. The typical, last-minute liberator is a reluctant and soon-to-be-regretful redeemer, who has often battled terror. Usually, he is utterly disquieted as he finds himself letting Arafat off, but he feels trapped by some force larger than himself. Something always seems to happen so that the knowledge that it is dangerous to let such men go unpunished is not translated into effective action. It is as though these leaders come under a spell.
This "spell" is part of a dynamic that operates when the evil being confronted is brazen and relentless, and it occurred when the first President Bush let Saddam Hussein off at the end of the Gulf War. The fact that Bush allowed Saddam to escape a just defeat when he was all but conquered is crucial: The person who decides on the ill-advised release does not act from a position of relative weakness. Neville Chamberlain and the others who released Hitler--another representative of brazen evil--at Munich did so before the Fuhrer perfected his war machine. It is as though there were an unwritten psychological law that evil at its most shameless--the most barbaric murder of children and civilians, the most outrageous claims and lies--is somehow, in the minute before midnight, to be treated as an exception worthy of reprieve.
In each historical instance, there is of course a political imperative that is cited to justify snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In Arafat's case, the political imperative has turned out each time to be based on a flawed calculus. In March, U.S. pressure on Israel to loosen its hold on Arafat was justified in the name of shoring up Arab support for Washington's new effort to topple Saddam. That Arab support did not materialize, any more than Oslo's promise had. In fact, Washington's Arab "friends" declared at the Beirut Arab summit that any attack on Iraq was an attack on them. To which Secretary of State Powell replied that Arafat, a man who had boasted of killing the American ambassador and his assistant in Khartoum, was no terrorist.
THE STUDENT of human nature who seems best to have recognized the importance of this bizarre dynamic, in which a conscientious hero proves unable to finish off a foe he knows to be evil, was none other than Shakespeare. Indeed, the Bard was obsessed with understanding the phenomenon. Hamlet hesitated to bring Claudius to justice, and he paid with his life and the lives of those he loved. But it is in "Richard III" that one can learn most from characters who see evil, yet freeze at the key moment. The principal characters are fully aware of Richard's undeniable evil, yet they let him have his way despite themselves. Richard is the most systematically evil character in all of Shakespeare's plays. "I can smile, and murder while I smile," he says, swearing that he will outdo all the villains of history "and set the murderous Machiavel to school."
The most important thing Richard knows is that while conscience allows us to understand ordinary crimes, it actually blinds us before the most extraordinary ones.
The idea that conscience blinds us, making us less able to oppose evil's most brazen forms, is deeply disturbing, for conscience is the sine qua non of civil society. Conscience is supposed to be the faculty that helps us become aware of our effects on others and our motives towards them, notably our baser motives. In Elizabethan English, "conscience" is an equivocal word that can mean either that faculty that allows us to feel guilt or "awareness," as in "consciousness." When Hamlet says, "Conscience does make cowards of us all," he means consciousness, by making us aware of the possibility of death, makes us cowardly.Many of the Sichos Mussar of Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz tz"l were translated by ArtScroll. In The Ability to Adapt, Reb Chaim writes about the importance of adapting--and when it is a danger that drains you of the ability to take decisive action:
But conscience, designed to ferret out evil within, can also actually narrow our awareness of evil. This happens, according to Freud, because the person with a conscience learns to repress automatically his own most destructive inclinations so as not to act on them. He becomes ignorant, for example, of the thrill of evil that a sadist like Richard III feels when he plays God and exercises the freedom to kill whomever he pleases. But the cost of repressing one's most destructive feelings is an inability to understand, without significant effort, those who give these feelings free rein.
This is seen over and over in "Richard III," especially in Richard's seduction of Lady Anne, whose husband he has murdered, and it is seen over and over in our dealings with terrorists. Richard actually gets Anne to drop her sword when she's about to kill him. Anne, although she knows Richard is evil, cannot see that he has no conscience. She tells him he should hang himself for what he has done. She keeps missing the point. He feels no guilt. Eventually, she marries him, and he murders her.
Conscience, when it is functioning well--automatically and without the intervention of reason, so that we do the right thing without thinking--is not simply rational. It is a force, a blunt instrument before which the conscientious person is guilty until proven innocent. As the preventive agency in the mind, conscience blocks first, thinks later. Men like Arafat and Richard know this. That is why both men constantly charge others with crimes--to paralyze them. Both know it doesn't matter whether the charges are false. Richard brazenly accuses Anne of inspiring the murder of her husband, as Arafat accuses the West of causing terrorism.
...Law, in the democracies, is like a civic conscience, and like conscience, it is the bluntest of instruments. Because law, in democracies, is made by the people, it has their respect. Democratic citizens are prone to the illusory hope that the law can be applied successfully in international affairs between regimes regardless of whether they are democracies or tyrannies, strong or weak. The name for this hope is "international law." But because the law in tyrannies is ultimately the product of one man's whim, a mere vehicle of the preeminent will and power, it cannot restrain the preeminent will and power. Conscientiousness in no way attaches to the law in tyrannies. International agreements with tyrants are meaningless, yet pursuit of such agreements is precisely what the State Department is now endorsing by trying to get Israel to sit at the table with Arafat.
...It is interesting that the person who finally defeats Richard III in Shakespeare's play, Richmond, is the one key character who never talks to Richard or gives him a hearing, and thus never comes under his spell. To talk to Arafat, which is what all pundits say must be done to bring peace to the Middle East, is precisely the wrong move, for there is no dialogue with a man without a conscience. Another wrong move is the game of decriminalizing Arafat. By refusing to punish him for horrendous crimes, as a serious nation would, Israel leaves the world, the Arabs, and itself with the sense that maybe his crimes can be justified, and its own attempts to restrain him from further criminal acts are criminal excesses in themselves. Israel would do better to relentlessly show the world pictures of Arafat's victims, including the American ambassador he assassinated. [Emphasis added]
The Gemara (Sotah 13a) tells of Esav contesting the title to Yaakov’s burial plot, the Cave of Machpelah. When Yaakov died and was brought to Canaan for burial, Esav came and protested that the plot of land belonged to him. A debate ensued and it was decided that Naphtali would return to Egypt to retrieve the deed certifying Yaakov’s purchase of the plot. A deaf grandson, Chushim the son of Dan, who was present at this scene, inquired as to the cause of the delay. When they told him, he exclaimed, “What? And until the deed is brought, grandfather is to lie in degradation?” Whereupon he killed Esav.There is a time when that wrath is justified. Whether we are dealing with listening to Esav, talking with King Richard III, or diplomatic negotiations with Iran, Syria, and Hamas--the results of talk have been the same.
Why was it that Chushim, a grandson, was more concerned about Yaakov’s honor that Yaakov’s own children? The answer is hinted at in the Gemara by its reference to Chushim’s deafness. All the brothers had been slowly drawn into the argument with Esav, gradually dulling their sensitivity to their father’s shame. Chushim, being deaf, was completely unaware of the litigation. When he was abruptly informed of the situation he cold not contain his wrath, and killed Esav instantly. [p. 62-3]
Not all criminals are equally brazen. Arafat seems to have the power to neutralize the very foes who see him as most evil, perhaps because they, by virtue of seeing him as virtually the devil incarnate, attribute to him a kind supernatural indestructibility. Such superstition has made many who are far more powerful than Arafat hesitate to end his career.Arafat's career ended with a whimper instead of a bang. Israel cannot afford to assume the same will be true of all of her enemies.
The irony of course is that blogging about the situation, the danger, is nothing more than continuing the conversation that has outlived its usefulness.It is not the blogging that is necessary, it is action.
Along these lines of not being derailed by false morality and conscience, this is the lens through which to view what is being proposed by former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu to Olmert:
Eliyahu ruled that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.It's time.
The letter, published in Olam Katan [Small World], a weekly pamphlet to be distributed in synagogues nationwide this Friday, cited the biblical story of the Shechem massacre (Genesis 34) and Maimonides' commentary (Laws of Kings 9, 14) on the story as proof texts for his legal decision.
According to Jewish war ethics, wrote Eliyahu, an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals. In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.
The former chief rabbi also said it was forbidden to risk the lives of Jews in Sderot or the lives of IDF soldiers for fear of injuring or killing Palestinian noncombatants living in Gaza.
Eliyahu could not be reached for an interview. However, Eliyahu's son, Shmuel Eliyahu, who is chief rabbi of Safed, said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers. Rather, he advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life.
"If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand," said Shmuel Eliyahu. "And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."
In the letter, Eliyahu quoted from Psalms. "I will pursue my enemies and apprehend them and I will not desist until I have eradicated them."
Eliyahu wrote that "This is a message to all leaders of the Jewish people not to be compassionate with those who shoot [rockets] at civilians in their houses." [emphasis added]