Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Identifying evil

February 19, 2002


Unpleasant as the word may be, it defines an atrocious condition and is a valid, appropriate term.

President George W. Bush recently referred to three nations as constituting an "axis of evil." That stern and direct approach immediately led to protests from Iran, Iraq and North Korea, the rogue states the president cited. Along with formal complaints, there have been demonstrations in the streets and criticism from a number of corners, including some in the United States.

It is understandable that the term ruffles the feathers of the more genteel among us. And there is a disturbing aspect to the terse, two-syllable word for many reasons.

Yet evil, with no window-dressing, is on the front-burner, points out Adrian Peracchio, a member of Newsday's editorial board, and "let's not be embarrassed to identify it."

Writes Peracchio:

"Calling them (Iran, Iraq and North Korea) evil should not make us cringe with embarrassment, but it does. It did when President Reagan proclaimed the Soviet Union to be the 'Evil Empire.' And the word still elicits a collective smirk and cringe, at least judging by colleagues' reactions and the discomfort implicit in pundits' comments about Bush's blunt, hyperbolic phrase. I admit that, when I kept hearing Bush repeat the word 'evildoers' in reference to the Sept. 11 terrorists, I felt a kind of aesthetic distaste and wished he had used another word. It seemed so lame. Then I had to question why I felt that way, when perhaps there was no other word that described them as aptly.

"Evil is a word that carries a searing charge, a pungent whiff of brimstone. Overused by pulpit-pounders and revival-tent packers, the word  maybe even the concept itself  had fallen out of favor among intellectual elites. It carried the taint of mindless, simplistic judgment in an age when moral relativism and the language of therapy provided the coinage for intelligent discourse."

The Newsday writer traces events since Sept. 11 and the activities that led up to it and concludes:

"(Osama) bin Laden's evil seems particularly transcendent because he was blessed with considerable intelligence, talents for organizing and inspiring people, even a kind of twisted brilliance  qualities he could have used to transform troubled Islamic societies by peaceful means. Instead, he used them for terror. That is evil. Let's not be ashamed to call it what it is."

One of the more practical approaches to the subject and how to deal with it comes from Rabbi Danny Horwitz of Congregation Ohev Sholom of Prairie Village. Comments Rabbi Horwitz:

"Many people are uncomfortable thinking about evil. Many people prefer to deny the reality of evil. If the terrorist attacks are not evil, then what is? Of course, a vigilante response is wrong, but that does not mean that we just talk instead of fight. When dealing with terrorists, one does not disarm and trust in reasonable discussion. Once we recognize evil for what it is, we must never compromise with it. We must always seek to defeat it.

"Winston Churchill once said, 'Appeasement is feeding a crocodile in the hope that he will eat you last.' It doesn't work. The ills of our society are real, but let's not confuse those ills with the evil we now confront."

A rose by any name would smell as sweet, we long have been told. The term "evil" is as ugly and bitter as ever, and in the context of Sept. 11 and subsequent events, it has a dirtier connotation than ever for many.

So why be so afraid to face that and use the term as the president and many others have done?

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