Here in the United States, our politicians love to spout venomous talk about evildoers, the necessity to combat evil, and how some conflict is a battle between good and evil.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies have been doing the same thing in Israel after Hamas terrorists attacked that country on October 7. A Daily Mail story says:
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to 'completely eliminate' Hamas on Saturday night as he revealed IDF forces have been fighting within the Gaza Strip to get rid of 'evil' and 'bring back' hostages.
He told Israeli citizens that the ongoing ground operation is the second phase of the war against Hamas, which he said would see Israeli 'good' triumph over 'evil'.
I don't like that word, evil. When combined with good, it wrongly portrays people, and reality, as being divided into two mutually incompatible camps. That sort of dualism is not only inaccurate, it is dangerous.
Calling people evil dehumanizes them. It reduces complex human beings to a single abstraction, since as soon as we try to come to grips with what "evil" really means, that attempt is doomed to result in failure.
There's no need for the word. Let's use Hamas as an example.
Hamas terrorists committed horrible atrocities. They killed innocent men, women, and children. That's an accurate way of describing Hamas, though naturally additional details could be given about what they did.
So what's the point in calling Hamas evil? Well, the point is to draw a sharp dividing line between Evil Hamas and Good Israel, just as politicians in the United States did after 9/11 with talk of Evil Al Qaeda and Good America.
That way atrocities committed by the good guys can be excused as being a necessary side effect of the war against evil. Today Manjit, a commenter on this blog, shared a talk by the UNICEF Executive Director on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. An excerpt:
After little more than three weeks, the devastating tally is quickly adding up, with rampant grave violations being committed against children. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than 8,300 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including over 3,400 children, with over 6,300 children injured. This means that more than 420 children are being killed or injured in Gaza every day – a number which should shake each of us to our core.
Of course, the violence being perpetrated against children extends beyond the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, at least 37 children have reportedly been killed. And of course more than 30 Israeli children have reportedly been killed, while at least 20 remain hostage in the Gaza Strip – their fates unknown.
Thousands of Palestinian children have been killed by Israel in retaliation for the killing and hostage taking of about 50 Israeli children. So tell me: where is the firm line between good and evil here? Isn't it true that atrocities are being committed by both sides in the Hamas-Israel conflict?
Sure, we can debate endlessly over who is more good and who more evil. But I think a better approach is to cease using terms like "good" and "evil" and simply talk about the specifics of any given situation.
If it's wrong for Hamas to kill Israeli children, then it's wrong for Israel to kill Palestinian children. Each side can justify the wrongness by saying that the killing was necessary to achieve a desirable end, but that doesn't make killing children the right thing to do.
An Israeli historian, Gil Troy, had an opinion piece published in the Jerusalem Post back in August 2023. Here's an excerpt from "Israeli, American politics are theological good-versus-evil battles."
Clearly, epidemics of horrific leadership and atrocious behavior haunt two of the world’s greatest democracies. This rampage of recklessness left and right reflects three big, broad, bad trends.
First, all-enveloping partisanship made even a confusing, scientific dispute about mask-wearing during COVID, a partisan issue in America – and an identity-signifier. That zealousness reflects the spreading partisan blindness which has MAGA voters ignoring Trump’s alleged crimes and responsible Democrats ignoring Biden’s decline.
Second, the all-or-nothingness surrounding most controversies has made politics theological, turning debates into good-versus-evil, rather than the better-of-two-evils whereby choices made are properly considered and balanced.
Such fanaticism riles Israelis daily with Channel 14’s pro-Bibi propagandizing as he destroys his legacy piece-by-piece, paralleled by a supposedly pro-democracy movement setting horrific precedents in unpatriotic protests that their opponents will mimic next time.
Finally, the pervasive, invasive, nature of social media freezes, weaponizes, and catastrophizes once-manageable differences of opinion into do-or-die fights between Team Good and Team Evil.