Friday, April 14, 2006

The Difference between Us and Them

Just read a piece by Michael Signer about Z Moussaoui and thought I'd share my comments here. MS cites Hannah Arendt's study of Eichmann, The Banality of Evil, which argues "that Eichmann was essentially normal, that evil was attainable through ordinary processes, and thus had to be guarded against that much more vigilantly. Reading the Moussaoui story, I wondered about that. Is this banal? Or extraordinary? I guess the real stakes of the question for me are this: is it worth understanding Moussaoui? Does he deserve our study and comprehension?"

My expanded response is this: One of the differences between Eichmann and Moussaoui is that Eichmann was banal only after his cause was lost (if it is lost - what with the Islamist revival of Hitler's dream). Eichmann at Nazi rallies would have been as fervent and dogmatic and "enthused" as Moussaoui still is. On those rare occasions when a fanatic is not on his topic, he seems quite normal. We are not children, to believe that the way people seem is the way they are. We are not judged by our best moments, but our worst.

Moussaoui still has hope. He has faith. Even if his particular and rather inane [update: three jurors proved me wrong] hope is dashed, that he will not be executed, yet in the death chamber he will have the greater hope that his cause will prevail. Eichmann didn’t have that, in the end.

Moussaoui is not extraordinary. He is a typical zealot. That he would die, and kill, for his cause is no rare thing in human history. He anticipates a greater reward. I wouldn’t honor him by saying he has the courage of his convictions, but I will say that, in terms of universal human psychology, it is only his cause, and not his fervor, that is distressing.

It boils down to that familiar theme. We all think we're right. Many people on opposite sides are willing to die for their cause. The American patriot who sacrifices his life for his buddies, or the flag, or the battle, is no different in his humanity, than the Islamist enemy. I say this as the unspeakably proud father of a soldier. What makes Americans different, and better, is that we are right.

Eichmann dandled little children on his knee. My, how kind and human. It's just those other things he believed and acted on. Moussaoui must love his fellow Islamists and his cause as deeply as any of us love our own. The difference between us and them is that in our calmer moments, anger and outrage aside, we acknowledge the human value of our enemies. They are not de-humanized - they are just wrong, and striving to achieve an evil end. They, on the other hand, in all their moments, see us as worthless and not human. Hitler against the Jews. Islamists against the Jews and us. Whereas, us against no race, no religion - only against those who declare themselves to be our blood enemies.

It boils down to this: we just got lucky, to be part of a sane culture. Not perfect, but sane. If we were born there, we'd be like them. Yikes. That's why, aside from how wonderful you are because of your sterling character and excellent wonderfulness, you'd better be grateful. God blessed America, which blesses you. In other words, we just lucked out.


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