Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Banality of Evil, Terrorism--and Self-Preservation

Doug Bandow--Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute--has a piece about Marc Garlasco in the Huffington Post on The Politics of Collecting:
I have a confession to make. I recently bid on a bronze bust of Lavrenti Beria on eBay. He was Joseph Stalin's last secret police chief. Alas, someone outbid me.
But at a Chelsea flea market in New York City last weekend I did purchase a World War I German military cigarette case.

Despite what you might think, I'm really not a communist-sympathizer. Nor a fan of the Kaiser. Just a collector. Collecting might be a form of mental illness, but it's not the same as endorsing mass murder.

I'm thinking a bit more about my collecting these days after the controversy that erupted over Marc Garlasco of Human Rights Watch, who collects World War II German militaria. It is the most popular military genre, but Garlasco was attacked as a Nazi-sympathizer by people who don't like his analytical work critical of Israel.

Garlasco--whom I have never met--seems to have survived the kerfuffle, but the controversy demonstrated not only Washington's tendency toward the ad hominem but also a more general failure to understand collectors. Collectors collect. The doing often is as important as the what. Few collectors collect because they identify with the politics behind the items they are accumulating. In fact, many can't even explain why they like what they like. [emphasis added]
Let's put aside for the moment Bandow's simplistic explanation for the 'attack' on Garlasco's work, which is more related to the actual quality of the work done by Garlasco--whom Kenneth Timmerman notes is "a self-styled 'military expert' for Human Rights Watch...who has no artillery experience or forensics training"

Instead, let's take a look at how Bandow explains his own fascination with collecting:
Despite appearances, I really do not admire one of Stalin's chief henchman, a person responsible for the murder and imprisonment of millions of people. Rather, I'm fascinated with what amounts to a celebration of the banality of evil. A bust of this unprepossessing figure, bald head highlighted by pince-nez glasses, actually sat on someone's desk a half century ago (he was arrested and shot shortly after Stalin's death in 1953). [emphasis added]
Keeping in mind that this is Bandow's--not Garlasco's--reason for collecting, I wonder what someone who can consider evil to be banal, thinks about the 'banality' of self-preservation?

On the one hand, evil is still not considered so banal as to be ignored:
The popular social-networking Web site Facebook has removed a page that called for the murder of Jews, after receiving a query on the matter from The Jerusalem Post.

The page, which belonged to a group that called itself "anti-semitism," listed dozens of members under a tagline that said, "We hate Jews so we must kill them."

It also contained a photo album labeled "we must kill the Jews" which contained numerous anti-Semitic images.

Contacted by the Post on Monday, Facebook took down the page within hours of receiving the inquiry.
and quick action was taken last week against Kick A Jew Day at a school.

On the other hand, there is a column by Seth Frantzman in The Jerusalem Post (Where is the banality of the Jews?)
The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall reminds us once again of the theory of the "banality of evil." It is important to explore the way in which contemporary thought views the actions of the East Germans and their Nazi forebears as "banal" and yet many of those who see their actions as dull, tend to judge the IDF harshly.
The banality of evil is associated with a controversial interpretation of the Nazis:
[Hannah] Arendt blamed the Jews for their deaths, claiming that the Judenrat and their part in Nazi bureaucracy was a driver of the Holocaust. For Arendt, the culprits were the far-from-banal Jewish collaborators, not the Nazis who ran the thing.
For [filmaker Eyal] Sivan, the Nazis are also colorless banal fools, the Jews are the culprits, in this case the Zionist regime for daring to memorialize the Holocaust and for supposedly erasing the Palestinian memory of the "nakba" of 1948 and continuing to suppress Palestine.
With this in mind, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall brings Frantzman to consider a more fruitful, if not more provocative, comparison of Israel with Germany:
Many who write about the East German regime and its Stasi secret police tend to portray the soldiers who manned its wall as banal. When they obeyed the "shoot to kill" orders against those trying to flee the East, they are inevitably excused.

A program on the National Geographic channel claimed they had to 'wrestle with demons' and it must have been "terrible" for them to shoot their own people. One feels the shooter was as much the victim as those he shot.

But for all the wrestling and inner struggle of the East German border guards, one might have forgotten that they carried out criminal orders. And yet with the fall of the Berlin Wall, none of the leaders of the Stasi were put on trial. Banality triumphed. The system in East Germany was bad; no individual had committed any crimes.

The reunification of Europe was replete with such amnesties for murderers. With the exception of a few cases, most of the Communist criminals were forgotten. The idea was, as in South Africa, Spain after Franco and Northern Ireland, that bygones should be bygones. No show trials. No revenge.

And yet the same European judicial system that forgets the Communist and Franco past is the one, in Belgium, Spain and the UK, that allows itself to investigate IDF "war crimes" in Gaza.

How did it come to be that a judicial system in the UK that can't investigate Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland, when the British paratroops shot 14 people dead in 1972, can investigate far-away Israel? England waited 30 years to convene an inquiry into Bloody Sunday; Israel is expected to do so tomorrow morning.

The central theme that runs all the way through is that the Jews, as a people, are not perceived as banal. As such they are perceived as individually evil when they do things that are perceived as wrong.

A Jewish IDF soldier who commits a crime while on duty is not having some sort of internal moral wrestling match; he is especially inclined to do bad. His crime is part of a system that is portrayed as uniquely evil.
Nowhere else does one see such a thoroughgoing condemnation of an entire group or country.

Islamist extremists are considered exactly that, as extremists, and not as typical adherents of Islam--which is only fair.

However, Palestinian terrorism has every excuse offered on its behalf: from a selective and tendentious interpretation of history to difficult economic conditions to categorizing killers of civilians as 'militants' and political organizations.

Terrorists have become mere criminals--and we are lectured, as was Officer Krupke in "West Side Story": I'm depraved on account I'm deprived.

And as a result:
  • Hamas leaders are free to write what they like in op-eds in respected newspapers without fear of correction or contradiction from the editor, and their talk-show-style interviews appear on YouTube

  • International Humanitarian Law is invoked with righteous indignation after 8 years and thousands of rockets and mortars with nary a peep and none of the invective heaped on Israel

  • The Israeli victims of terrorism are accused of war crimes--wary of traveling to countries where terrorists and their leaders freely tread.

  • The only recourse allowed to Israel in the face of attacks from the proxies of Iran is negotiation--which means compromise: the one-sided kind which is a more palatable term for appeasement.
Self-preservation in the face of terrorism has become very dull and banal indeed.
Especially in the case of Israel.

But never fear, Mr. Bandow: think of the collectibles if Israel loses.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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