Monday, August 07, 2006

A Few Points That Are Not Morally Equivalent 

Moral relativism has been around a long time now, and while its inherent hazards as a practical philosophy have been readily apparent, its more esoteric decrees have sometimes seemed more ridiculous than dangerous.

But now, at least in this controversial little corner of the world where I live, relativism's pronouncements are getting harder to laugh off. Especially the accusations of those who believe Israel's decades-long struggle just to exist is morally equivalent to the violence continually waged against it. After all, they can say, violence is violence and a dead civilian doesn't care whether death arrived by suicide bomb or the explosion of an artillery shell taking out a rocket launcher.

If the only goal of such foolishness was to demoralize Israelis and persuade us to stop using sufficient strength for our own defense, then we could just power up the stupidity filters and ignore it. The idea of moral relativists coming to anyone and trying to change their beliefs in any way is an amusing irony we would love to simply file away for a good chuckle on a rainy day.

But the problem is that they are not just trying to change our minds here in Israel, to convince us our self-defense is only justified if we can stop our attackers' violence non-violently -- or at least non-violently enough that our attackers don't end up regretting their violence. They are also trying to convince the rest of the world that Israel's self-defense is illegitimate and undeserving of support, and that matters. It matters for us, because no country truly stands alone, no matter how resilient and determined it is. And it matters to the rest of the world, because bad habits and self-defeating beliefs are easy to pick up, especially when the dangers are temptingly easy to ignore because they appear to be someone else's problem.

So I say it plainly: the morality of Israel's self-defense is superior to the morality of those who attack her, decade after decade, through wars of annihilation and pizzeria suicide bombings alike.

Hizbullah's morality, and it's reading of our own vulnerability to relativism's arguments, leads it to believe it can use an entire country as a shield from behind which it expects to be allowed to wage war against Israel while avoiding war's harsh consequences, safely ensconced behind the bodies of its civilians.

War without consequences, if so allowed, is an immoral invitation to perpetual conflict since there is no reason for anyone to ever give up such a win-win war, other than the eventual obliteration of its target, when a new target must be found. Fortunately, Israel fights back, rather than choosing simply to lay down and die and in the process of surrender convincing Hizballah's world-wide allies that these tactics are worth trying again, and again. It is obvious that by fighting back some Lebanese civilians will suffer. Israel knows and regrets this, yet struggles to minimize these civilian casualties, sometimes even at the risk of its own ground troops. Hizballah knows and celebrates this, placing military assets in the midst of civilians to exacerbate the problem, and making sure photographers are on hand whenever there are bodies to show. These two sides -- one of which regrets civilian death, the other which celebrates it -- are not morally equivalent.

Contrary to what outraged mobs and their genocidally-tinged placards-for-peace -- ("Create world peace, Protect civilians, Destroy Israel") -- would have you believe, Israel does not take the death of either side's civilians lightly. Israelis are as aware as anyone else, if not more so, that civilians are always at risk in war, even in wars that don't involve Israel at all. This awareness is not just based on our past but also on some of the outrageous threats looming in our immediate future.

After all, Iranian President Ahmadinejad is busily plotting even now to work through his disagreements with the Zionist regime by building a nuclear bomb or two, and making sure there is never an open microphone that doesn't record his threats to wipe us from the map. It would be nice to be a cultural relativist and be able to dismiss Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel atomic ranting as merely the rhetorical flourishes of a master orator who knows what his audience wants to hear. But it's hard to dismiss genocidal threats from a man who clearly believes "never forget" is an eternal reminder never to lose those Nazi blueprints.

Israelis understand risk to civilians, having lived with it everyday themselves -- if by "risk" to civilians we include the case of being intentionally targeted. Israel does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties, short of surrendering the right to self-defense, and with it, existence.

At the risk of re-inflaming my comments section, let me continue by showing a few of these differences between the values of Israel and her enemies.

You've probably heard more than you want to about the cry "Allahu Akbar," a phrase commonly used in everyday Islamic life, but also invoked all too frequently to credit God for impending acts of carnage.

What you might not know is that Jewish martyrs are also known to recite a brief prayer in their last moments proclaiming the unity of God's name -- the difference being that a Jewish martyr's last moments glorify God through self-sacrifice, not slaughter. Of course you won't know this if the only image of a religious martyr the media has ever sold you is the kind that blows himself up in order to take civilians with him. But there is another kind.

Take for instance the story of Roi Klein, soldier, husband, and father of two, who was killed in Lebanon last week:

When his unit was attacked in Bint J'beil, he and his men were surrounded in an ambush. One of the terrorists lobbed a grenade towards the group. Roi yelled out "Sh'ma Yisrael" and jumped on the grenade. He took the brunt of the explosion and saved many of his men.
The words "Sh'ma Yisrael" that Roi is reported to have yelled out are the first two words of a prayer Jews recite twice every day -- just six Hebrew words in its shortest, abbreviated form. They've also been the last words of countless Jews throughout the centuries who have faced persecution and martyrdom for their faith: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." In some ways, it's a little bit equivalent to Allahu Akbar, but in the context of it's ultimate expression, the two couldn't be more different.

However, some news outlets were apparently unmoved by Roi's committment to God and selfless devotion to the lives of others. Take for instance the version of the same incident reported in the UK's Times Online:

Then a blood-freezing scream split the silence: "Allahu akbar" -- God is greatest.

The next thing the soldiers heard was the clatter of a hand grenade rolling out of the darkness. Klein shouted "Grenade!" The explosion blew his legs off.

Klein died in the arms of one of his soldiers; it was last Wednesday morning, the day before his 31st birthday.
While the Times' report finds it noteworthy that the grenade was tossed in God's name, it can't be bothered with the corresponding last words of the brave soldier who gave his life shielding his comrades from that grenade. The Times dismisses Roi's final words, and then ignores his heroism, prefering to report the incident as little more than a successful grenade attack by a religiously inspired attacker.

The difference in versions is not based on one reporter's access to special information, since all anyone has to go on is the testimony of surviving witnesses. Some dismiss the difference as a product of skepticism of battlefield reports, assuming a certain amount of legend-building is occuring and choosing to ignore it. But if that is the case, there is no skepticism where the grenade thrower's behavior is concerned. It is apparently now beyond question that a Jihadist invokes God's name as he kills. At the same time, whether reports are literally believed or not, it must be recognized that what Israelis consider legend-worthy is not blowing someone up but bravery on behalf of others.

This difference is probably almost psychologically impossible for cultural relativists and Jihad's apologists to acknowledge. It is much easier to paint a simple picture of two religions, both invoking God in the name of violence and conflict -- even if it's not true. Judaism's home is Israel and it has no designs on Spain, while the radical Islam of Hizballah and many of its supporters dreams of a global caliphate and defines itself based on how much of the world it has conquered for Islam and how much remains to be conquered, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb.

Even today, after many years and hundreds of suicide attacks against Jews, there are those who are eager to blur the distinction between murderer and victim, as if Israel's insulting offer of only 95% of Palestinian demands justifies a Palestinian response of suicide bombings rather than a counterproposal of 99% -- and no, a response of 100% and explosives is not a counterproposal.

How often have you heard the excuse that the suicide bombers and terrorist attackers go after Israeli civilians with 'Allahu Akbar' fury because they have no other choice, since they don't have advanced weapons and missiles like Israel does? But now on Israel's northern border, and coming from Gaza too, we see that the moment Jihadists do get their missiles, they don't use them to go after Israeli artillery pieces as the apologists would have you expect. Now that Jihad has a choice, it still prefers sending its explosives at hospitals and city centers, as if the missile is just a suicide bomber upgrade. Yesterdays missile strike on Israeli reserve soldiers gathered for a meeting is the exception that proves the rule: it was essentially a lucky shot, the first notable hit against a military target after the prior 3000 Katyusha's had landed on apartment buildings, schools and businesses from Haifa to Naharia to Tzfat, leaving Israel's uniformed combatants and equipment massed near the border all but ignored.

Now that Israel and her enemies both have advanced, stand-off weapons, they nevertheless use them differently. Hizballah, confident Israel will focus on protecting its citizens, rolls their mobile launchers into the nearest civilian house and fires at Israel's cities, hoping to draw Israeli return fire. Israel's fire is focused on stopping rocket launchers, wherever they may be -- the results being Hizballah's responsibility given its choice to draw that fire. To blame Israel under the circumstances is to demand surrender, since adherence to a policy that would evade criticism would require doing nothing even as the missiles landed in Haifa or Tel Aviv given the likelihood Hizballah would have placed civilians in the way of any effective response.

Ok, say the most persistent of the apologists, still looking for a way to declare Israel and her attackers morally equivalent. Sure, Hizballah has to fire missiles at larger targets, like civilian cities with no military value whatsoever, because they lack Israel's precision weapons -- if they fired at military targets, they wouldn't kill enough people. But does anyone still believe that if the US would just supply Hizballah with satellite trackers and precision Tomahawk missiles, Israel's civilians would suddenly be safe? They launch Katyushas and Qassams as little more than new and improved suicide bombers, the only difference being that now the attacker's suicide is now delayed a minute after the attack, until the artillery shell arrives in return. A Hizballah Tomahawk would simply enhance the terror value of Hizballah's attacks.

The people who keep thinking the problem is Jihad's insufficient inventory of weapons, or Israel's vexing existence, are missing the point. Jihad's central military doctrine to use civilians as pawns, running them through the meat grinder from Lebanon to Afghanistan to Iraq, and then enlisting the world's help in holding their enemies responsible for the deaths, all in an attempt to convince the West that its vastly superior defensive systems are too immoral to use, and that surrender is the prefered moral choice.

Relatively speaking, that is morally reprehensible, and I pray, for the world's future, that people will soon recognize the difference.


Clayton Cramer (via Power and Control) expresses similar ideas a bit more concisely and clearly. At some point, a society has to believe that it represents something worthwhile, or it might as well auction itself off to the highest bidder right now and save the printing costs on all those "We support the troops" stickers.

Elder of Ziyon notices that the "dead-is-dead" equivalence really only cuts one way.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: