Monday, July 29, 2013

Releasing Convicted Murderers Will not Bring Peace to the Middle East

"In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations."--Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

"All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be."--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak out for me."--Martin Niemoller

The isolationist school of thought suggests that what happens in other countries does not matter but the reality is that all people and nations are intimately connected. An injustice anywhere has ripple effects that spread out like a tidal wave. In August 1990, two teenage boys named Lior Tubal and Ronen Karmani were abducted, bound, gagged and murdered, their bodies dumped in a valley. Their only "crime" was that they were Jews. The perpetrators of these horrific murders were captured, convicted and given four life sentences each (they murdered two other people in addition to Tubal and Karmani).

Esther Pollard wrote a powerful essay that explains why Tubal and Karmani's murderers should never be set free. Some people may object that everyone deserves forgiveness. Only the person or persons who have been wronged can offer forgiveness; the primary tasks of a nation's justice system are to punish people who break the law and deter people from breaking the law in the future: releasing murderers from jail represents a huge failure in both regards. Here are wise words about such prisoner releases:

The release of convicted terrorists before they have served their full sentences seems like an easy and tempting way of defusing blackmail situations in which innocent people may lose their lives, but its utility is momentary at best.

Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to think such demands are likely to be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.

The author of that well-reasoned declaration is none other than Benjamin Netanhayu, who is now Israel's Prime Minister; the prisoner release that he has authorized--not just of two murderers but of over 100 terrorists, many of whom are convicted murderers--is a repudiation of everything for which he claimed to stand when he ran for office in the first place.

Don't believe the fiction that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Those who compare Yasser Arafat to George Washington engage in a very dangerous moral equivalency, failing to recognize critical differences between the goals and the modus operandi of the PLO compared with Washington's Revolutionary War troops. Vladimir Nabokov called such confused thinking "poshlost," a Russian term for which he provided a wide-ranging definition:

Poshlost speaks in such concepts as "America is no better than Russia" or "We all share in Germany's guilt." The flowers of poshlost bloom in such phrases and terms as "the moment of truth," "charisma," "existential" (used seriously), "dialogue" (as applied to political talks between nations), and "vocabulary" (as applied to a dauber). Listing in one breath Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam is seditious poshlost.

In Hitler's Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss, Laurence Rees notes that every step of the way on the path to genocide Hitler calculated exactly what the Nazis could get away with both in terms of internal opposition and external opposition; when the democratic nations of the world met at the Evian Conference in 1938 and the Dominican Republic was the only one that agreed to take in Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis, Hitler took that as a powerful sign that no one would lift a finger to stop the Nazis from implementing the "Final Solution." Rest assured that today's would-be Hitlers take note when democracies show signs of weakness and/or weariness in the face of evil; the issue is much deeper than the likelihood that some of the specific individuals released by Netanyahu will murder again: when murderers are set free, a climate is created in which the value of human life is cheapened. Hitler knew that Turkey was not punished for massacring Armenians in the early part of the 20th century and that Stalin's Soviet Union got away with killing millions of her citizens in the 1930s; that history of injustice emboldened Hitler to proceed with his plan to kill every Jewish man, woman and child on the planet. In contrast, when German citizens protested Hitler's so-called euthanasia plan--his doctrine to kill mentally and/or physically ill people who Hitler deemed to be "life unworthy of life"--Hitler scaled back the program. Standing up against evil can make a difference, while being silent in the face of evil not only permits but rather encourages even greater crimes to be committed.

Many people scoffed when the year 1984 passed and the world supposedly did not resemble George Orwell's dystopian vision--but perhaps we are already living in that 1984 world without even realizing it, a world in which language and justice have become distorted beyond recognition or salvation. Suggesting that the release of cold-blooded murderers is some kind of justifiable "sacrifice for peace" is sickening and, as Solzhenitsyn powerfully wrote (in reference to the crimes against humanity committed by the Soviet Union), there will be terrible consequences as a result of Netanyahu's shortsighted, cowardly act. Appeasement only whetted Hitler's appetite for conquest and appeasement will predictably have the same effect on the nations and terrorist groups that are not only plotting to destroy Israel but also to destroy all Western democracies; those who do not speak up for Israel--and against Netanyahu's prisoner releases--should keep in mind Niemoller's heartbreaking and prophetic words.

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