It is just mind-boggling. There is no other way to describe the horrific massacre of 6 year old children and their teachers that took place in the United States this past Friday. I can only imagine how this has ripped apart Americans and especially the residents of that quiet Connecticut town. Here in Israel, we haven’t stopped talking about it – on the news, among friends. While we are no strangers to terrorism, the sheer number of children that were murdered for no apparent reason has left us all speechless.
I ask myself if there is a difference between this meaningless act of violence and the terrorist attacks that we have been subject to in Israel for decades. Or terrorist attacks that Jews have suffered around the world but most recently in France, when a Muslim terrorist butchered school children in a Jewish school in Toulouse. Or terrorist attacks aimed against any civilian population in the name of some ideology or religion, like the attacks against the World Trade Center in the US, against the public transportation system in London and a host of other locations around the world. Does it make a difference if the attack is motivated by a purpose or if it derives from some sick mind?
There are differences between these two types of attacks and the differences become significant primarily in devising ways to prevent the attacks. But I would like to focus on what all of these attacks have in common. And I can summarize that in one word – evil. All of these attacks, whether motivated by an ideology or whether motivated by a psychopathic personality, are rooted in evil. And, unfortunately, what we must come to terms with is that evil is everywhere.
But that does not mean that evil will win or that evil will overpower righteousness. But with evil all around us, we must redouble our efforts to seek out righteousness and ensure that it predominates our environment.
When I was a child, it was very common to play cops and robbers or some other form of good guys and bad guys. The bad guys attacked the good guys and then the good guys defended themselves and they always won. That was the nature of our games and that was also the nature of the books we read and the films we watched. It may have been a simplistic way of looking at things, but as children, it presented us with a powerful message – there is good and evil in this world and the key is to defeat evil. Not to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Something has happened to that rather black and white ethos in recent years. Some will call it moral equivalence but it goes much deeper than that. In many ways, we have become more humane. When we are presented with a criminal or a terrorist, we are less inclined to immediately pronounce judgment and we are truly interested in learning how he or she got to this terrible place. We want to understand the psychology behind the act and we try to refrain from passing judgment. We want to view people and actions from the perspective of mercy and not from the perspective of judgment.
But this sort of humanity can sometimes backfire. And as I ponder the responses to this latest outrage, I wonder if society hasn’t slipped into a very dangerous way of thinking. We all ask why – how could such a terrible thing happen? And that question is indeed important and should be asked and if at all possible, it should be answered. But that is not the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue should be how can we protect our children? And perhaps this is where dealing with terrorism is easier.
In Israel, we know why terrorists attack us. We have enemies and they will stop at nothing to destroy Israel and the Jewish people. We cannot solve the riddle that is the root of anti-Semitism, that hatred of Jews has been with us for so many centuries that it is just a given. So rather than rack our souls with questions of why, we get down to the business of prevention. How can we protect our children and our civilians?
In Israel, as a result of our ongoing vulnerability to terrorist attack, our schools are all surrounded by locked gates and an armed guard stands in front of each school. Armed guards check our pocket books and the trunks of our cars as we enter shopping centers. For those who have visited Israel for the first time, this may seem a scary experience but for us it is just part of life. When guns are in the hands of the good guys, we are not frightened. We feel protected.
While I cannot weigh in on the controversial subject of gun control in the US, I do not think that guns are evil items in and of themselves. When used by evil people, they are indeed very dangerous. When used by good people, they can save lives. But in order to make the distinction between good and bad use of guns, we have to be willing to distinguish between good and evil people. We have to be willing to pass judgment and we have to be willing to realize that evil is around us. And if we are going to win the battle against evil, we are going to have to be willing to fight.
I keep asking myself what would have happened if that school in Connecticut had been protected by an armed guard. A young man with a hunting rifle would not have gotten very far – he would have been shot dead before being able to do any damage. There have been countless terrorist attacks in Israel which were stopped mid-stream by citizens or security personnel who were nearby and who were armed. And they were armed because they were identified as individuals who could help in our fight against terrorism.
Thank G-d, America and most other countries do not face the evil of terrorism on a daily basis. But America does face an evil of another sort, regularly. And it is an evil that must be identified and fought against, just as Israel has identified its evil and continues to fight against it. Many countries around the world criticize Israel regularly for defending itself. Defense is not always pretty and it doesn’t always photograph well. But there is no other way to protect our children. I pray that this most recent attack in America will be the last. And I hope that wise people in the US and all over the world wake up and realize that evil is everywhere. And that we are at our most moral when we defend ourselves and fight against that evil.