Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Banal Observations about Terrorism

..seem to generate far more outrage than they deserve. Take Judy Shalom.
Judy [Shalom, wife of the Israeli foreign minister], speaking on a television show about the recent bombings in London: "As long as I hold no official position, I can say it's not all bad for the English to find out what it's like."
For outrage see here and here. But....Think about it. If you are an Israeli and thus frequently experience terrorism, it might be a bit of a relief to know that others have now experienced the same thing. It's the solidarity of victims. Sure you don't wish they'd also felt the pain, but now that they have, it's nice to have other members of the club. Not that she's not saying that she wishes England had been attacked, simply that now that they have there is something sort of good (not all bad) to pull out from the experience.

The other subtext is that Israeli counter-terrorism policy is harshly criticized, no place more than in England (trust me, being a Jew in England ain't a pleasant experience, or so my parents report, I was too young to find out). And so Mrs. Shalom is expressing a half pleasure that England might now vaguely understand how Israel feels and why it has the policies it does (though this is odd, given the history with the IRA).

4 Comments:

Anonymous battlepanda said...

So how would you feel about a palestinian woman expressing approval of suicide bombings so that Israelis would know what it's like to have violence inflicted in their midst, just like the Israeli army frequently inflict violence in the midst of the palestinians?

10:49 AM  
Blogger Isaac said...

There is a difference between expressing approval for suicide bombings on those grounds (for who would launch a suicide bombing simply so others could have that experience?) and saying that given that it has happened, this is one good thing we can rescue from it: given that there has been a suicide bombing in London/Tel Aviv, now they (the English/Israelis) can understand something that we (Israelis/Palestineans) experience on a far more frequent basis.

So sure, if a Palestinian wants to say after a suicide bombing that "now you understand how we feel" I'm fine with that, which is what Judy Shalom was saying.

This does not mean that I endorse inflicting suffering on others just so they can empathize with those who suffer; but given that you have suffered, we can pull out the good in it that now you can empathize with those who also suffer.

10:56 PM  
Blogger David Schraub said...

I admitted in my post that one could find "silver lining"--it isn't that Ms. Shalom's position is descriptively inaccurate. Rather, the problem is a display of a lack of empathy--the appearance of emotional callousness and insufficient concern for the feelings and sensitivities of the victims outweighs whatever benefit there was to voicing this opinion.

It is roughly analogous to saying that "I can say it's not all bad for little Timmy's parents to have died--now he knows what those poor orphans down the street feel like." Even if our lovely speaker prefaced it with a "It's a shame it happened, but..." (which Ms. Shalom didn't even do), I think we'd still say it is a shockingly callous response to deep trauma.

I don't dispute the history of British anti-semitism and anti-Israeli rhetoric--I think it is shameful and should be protested. But the whole realm of ethics is dedicated to the proposition that certain actions should not be taken REGARDLESS of whether or not we're dealing with "bad people" and REGARDLESS of whether we might identify some "good" that will come out of it in the end (see, e.g., brutal torture). Some lines shouldn't be crossed.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Isaac said...

David,
AH, but there's a difference between addressing the victims (who are already dead) and addressing the society -- it's sufficiently abstracted from the suffering as to not be offensive, I would say.

Also, haven't you had the experience of being partially glad to be really miserable or sick *so that now you know what it feels like*? Or maybe I'm unique in vaguely welcoming my occasional suffering? It makes sense to me that you can separate out the offensiveness of seeming to endorse suffering from the banality of endorsing the benefit of having suffered (an odd theodic point, I know).

Finally, some of us may be deontologists in our ethics, but others, while not strictly consequentalists or even utilitarians, recognize that there are very few firm lines you don't cross, and this certainly doesn't seem like one.

Oh, and the stuff about English anti-semitism was really quite peripheral to the argument; it just occured to me that that might explain the impulse of Mrs. Shalom...

11:01 PM  

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