What does it mean to us morally if we say that terrorism doesn’t matter?
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
By: Sondra Baras
As I write this newsletter, I am glued to the news regarding the terrible attack by a 64-year old gunman on thousands of participants in a concert in Las Vegas, USA. Las Vegas is a well-known vacation resort town with thousands of residents and tourists thronging the “Strip” until late at night on any given day. But this night, Sunday night, ended in tragedy. Armed with multiple automatic weapons and hundreds of bullets, he shot into the audience from his hotel, killing at least 59 people and wounding hundreds. We are shocked at the depravity of it all and wonder who is this human being who would plan to murder so many people at once? People he never met. People who just wanted to enjoy a concert, to sing and clap and dance. How does this happen? What were his motivations? Were there signs that pointed to this tragic outcome?
There is still no clue as to the murderer’s motive. There is no evidence that he was connected to a terrorist network nor that he had any ideological or religious motivation to strike out in this way. And that, of course, is the first question that is asked. In a world where we have become far too accustomed to murder for the sake of a cause, that has become a motive that we can understand. Terrorism, as ugly and reprehensible as it is, has become something that we think we understand. If a terrorist subscribes to a religion that encourages murder of those that don’t share a certain religious belief, then we understand why he would murder. If a terrorist is trying to achieve a certain political outcome, then we understand why he would murder hundreds. But a regular middle-age man who murders — that we cannot understand.
But in reality, do we understand any of it? Or more importantly, can we accept any of it? Sometimes it seems that once we understand the motivation of the murderer, the distance between understanding and acceptance is not that great. And that is what has happened with regard to Islamic terrorism in so many parts of the world. The terrorists are referred to as militants, giving them the status of quasi-soldiers fighting for a legitimate cause. The next step is to refer to them as freedom-fighters. And the next step, which we have seen happen over and over, is to blame the victim. It is not the murderer who is at fault but the victim who had the misfortune to be a part of the wrong race, the wrong nation, to be Jewish or Israeli or American or French or British. The victims are seen as part of a national conspiracy to persecute Palestinians, Muslims, Whites, Blacks, you name it. And the entire horrible event becomes part of a political struggle of some sort.
But murder is murder is murder. A person who takes a gun or explosives or a knife and seeks out victims whom he doesn’t know, who have not harmed him in any way, who do not threaten his safety and security, and who murders those people in cold blood — this is a horrific crime that has no place in human society. This is murder and there can be no understanding and no acceptance of this act.
And this brings me to the recent rapprochement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the terrorist organization which controls the Gaza Strip. Just a recap of Palestinian history: In 2005, Israel withdrew its entire civilian and military presence in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority took over. Just a few months later, the Palestinian Authority held general elections for its Parliament and the Hamas won a majority of the seats. A few months after that, Hamas staged a bloody coup and took over the Gaza Strip, separating itself from the Palestinian Authority and evicting the PA from Gaza. Since then, the Palestinian areas of Israel have been controlled by two separate entities: Hamas and the PA.
The PA is not a friend, but they have had less direct involvement with terrorism then Hamas in recent years. They continue to encourage terrorism, to financially compensate terrorists and their families, but they have been less involved in planning and executing terrorist attacks. Hamas on the other hand, has sought every possible opportunity to murder Israelis from shooting rockets and artillery into Israel, to building tunnels into Israel for terrorist infiltration. In the summer of 2014, Hamas launched its last serious attacks against Israel and as a result of the incredible destruction that Israel inflicted upon Gaza in response, there has been relative quiet in Gaza ever since. But Hamas is recouping its strength, rebuilding its tunnels and it is just a matter of time before they attack once more.
Against this background, the efforts to bring Hamas and the Palestinian Authority back together, spearheaded by Egypt, must be viewed not only from a political perspective but from a moral perspective. Hamas has repeatedly declared its refusal to accept a Jewish presence anywhere in Israel. They have endorsed violence, called upon their followers to murder Jews wherever they may be. They have allied themselves with such groups as Al Qaeda, ISIS and Hizbollah. They are terrorists. They are murderers. And many in the Palestinian Authority are equally culpable for murder and terrorism.
Can there be any understanding or acceptance of murder? Can a political arrangement that accepts murderers as partners be an arrangement we can honor? Yesterday, I heard Jibril Rajoub, a Palestinian leader affiliated with the PA, interviewed on Israeli radio. He called upon Israel to effectively “let bygones be bygones”, release all Palestinian prisoners and withdraw to the 1967 lines. But apart from the territorial issues, what does it mean to us morally if we say that terrorism doesn’t matter. That people who woke up one morning and took a gun or a bomb or a knife and murdered men, women and children are murderers. Their ideology and politics don’t matter. They are morally reprehensible individuals and don’t belong in human society. Perhaps if we stop seeking understanding and instead stand uncompromisingly against murder, and refuse to accept the perpetrators in our midst, in our conversation, we can begin the process of stopping this mayhem.