Let's imagine a case in which a young woman is brutally raped and left for dead. The rapist is caught and the shocking details of the case are published in the media. A female relative of the woman, a moderately famous actress, still reeling from what she has just learned about the gruesome details of the story, writes on her FB status: All men must be castrated. An anti-feminist blogger, who calls himself The Guardian of Moral Society, who is always on the lookout for women whom he perceives as hateful towards men pounces with glee, writing a triumphant "gotcha" post on his chauvinist blog. He introduces the subject in the following manner:
While the raping of the young woman by a violent man was a horrifying crime, the response by one feminist actress is chilling both because of its virulence and because of her celebrity. Feminism, a movement already filled with intolerance for non-feminists, male-hatred and feminist insolence, will be further provoked by such anger from a popular actress so beloved by the feministas and their daughters.
The rest of the post is dedicated to a spiel of vituperation against the actress and the sisterhood in which she is a member.
What do you think? Does this person have his moral priorities in the correct order?
Does such a person deserve to be seen as a guardian of proper feeling and moral principles?
So now here is what triggered this imaginary case:
There is this post from a blogger I alluded to before.
There is no other way of describing the tone of his introductory paragraph except as a jubilant shock at what a certain Israeli singer wrote on his facebook status following the gruesome murder of an Israeli soldier by a Palestinian adolescent. Missing from the linked account is the fact that the 18 or 19 year old soldier was sleeping when he was stabbed.
Here is the perplexing part that struck me most in Mr. Tikkun Olam's presentation of the murder:
"While the killing of the sleeping soldier by a Palestinian boy was a horrifying crime, the response by one of Israel’s leading hip hop stars is chilling both because of its virulence and because of his celebrity. Israel, already a country filled with intolerance, race-hate and Islamophobia, will be further provoked by such anger from a popular performer beloved by the country’s youth."There are three components in this paragraph:
1. The butchering murder of a sleeping, 19 year old soldier on a bus in Israel by a Palestinian youth.
2. The immediate written response on some popular singer's facebook page
3. The statement as self-evident fact that "Israel [is] filled with intolerance, race-hate and Islamophobia,"
Notice the construction of this information: While the murder is horrifying, the response is "chilling" because Israel is an evil state.
Let's reverse the order of this sentence: Israel is an evil state, as exemplified in the quoted FB status, therefore, this horrifying murder happened.
In other words, it is the fault of Israel and Israelis that this innocent young soldier was so horribly murdered.
If it is the fault of Israel, how can the murderer be at fault? It was his only recourse to justice as a Palestinian in an evil ("filled with intolerance, race-hate and Islamophobia,") society like Israel.
Make no mistake about it. For all that Mr. Tikkun Olam described the murder as "horrifying", the general sentiment that blows in his post is a sensibility that seeks to exonerate this gruesome act of butchery by diverting attention to the furious verbal response to it by some Israeli entertainment celebrity.
The French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur defined evil as "perversion, that is, a reversal of the order that requires respect for law to be placed above inclination. It is a matter of a misuse of a free choice and not of the malfeasance of desire. The propensity for evil affects the use of freedom, the capacity to act out of duty...”
Can we treat Silverstein's post as anything but a perversion of Tikkun Olam, and reversal of the humanist order of justice and compassion, that puts respect for the law above inclination?
How do I know it is a malevolent formulation? Because he contains both transgressions of the law (the good and moral order) in the same sentence (implying a certain equivalence) and proceeds to direct and focus the reader's outrage not at the genuine evil in this story (the committed murder with its very real victim now dead), but at the rather marginal and instantaneous verbal outburst of fury and revenge fantasy by one member of Israeli society on some FB page. From there the indictment of the entire Israeli society is just one more step in the direction of this blogger's objective.
You may well notice with what dismissive shortness he relates the facts of the murder in what the British journalist Nick Cohen once wryly named "The rhetorical throat clearing":
" It is the throat-clearing used to justify tyranny and excuse the barbarism of radical Islam. It is that sing-song, world-weary note that makes shrugging your shoulders and turning away appear virtuous."
To paraphrase what Cohen wrote in What’s Left? and apply his formulation to the case I'm talking about here: We have to judge Mr. Tikkun Olam's intentions in his post by the bulk of the evidence he presents; the burden of proof is upon him.
When he says "While the killing of the sleeping soldier by a Palestinian boy was a horrifying crime, implying he is horrified by this act, and then spends the rest of his time in passionate polemics against one single Israeli, after having established that he believes that Israeli to be a true representative of the entire Israeli society, we can reasonably doubt the authenticity of that "horrifying" sentiment he attempts.
When he uses a complex sentence structure, consisting in two clauses, and the first clause starts with "while", we can conclude by simply applying the rule of grammatical logic, that this is the dependent clause and the independent clause that follows contains the important message for the writer. In other words, whatever Mr. T-O has inserted into that first clause that starts with "while" and ends with the coma, is just the above-mentioned rhetorical throat-clearing: a necessary lip service to convention, but negligible in significance.
And Eden Attias, the boy whose vile murder has been shrunk, with pre-deliberation and imponderable malice, to one small and insignificant clause in a sentence on the ironically-named Tikkun Olam blogpost, lies cold in his fresh grave. Any person with a modicum of proper feeling mourns his cruel death.
Mr. Tikkun thinks he knows Hebrew and likes to play the linguistic whistle-blower. Therefore he often inserts into his translations helpful "explanations" of Hebrew terms. He is doing it in this post too:
"Despicable murderer: may his name and memory be erased [a curse usually reserved for Hitler and the like]. "
" may his name and memory be erased" is indeed the literal translation of
ימח שמו ושם זכרו.
The insertion of the helpful notation "[a curse usually reserved for Hitler and the like]" is likely intended to ridicule the outlandishness of Silverstein's target in his post. As if it is somehow hyperbolic to attribute Hitlerian motivation to the Palestinian adolescent who has just plunged a knife into the chest of a sleeping young Israeli not much older than himself for no other reason than that his victim was an Israeli Jew. But never mind that. The term itself " may his name and memory be erased" is a pretty common curse among those Hebrew speakers who are inclined to use curses, and can be hurled at anybody who is perceived to have committed a great injustice, any great injustice. It is hardly an exclusive Jewish linguistic quirk. The phrase has a time-honoured, Latin etymology: