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Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2002 / 28 Tishrei, 5763

Julia Gorin

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On the dark side: The fear factor

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | "Strong, the pull of the Dark Side is." -- Yoda

Nations once feared to oppose Soviet might. Today they fear opposing Islamic might. They fear opposing terrorism. They fear opposing Iraq. So George W. Bush had to try to shame the United Nations into doing so.

Which makes him contemptible to them. For he exposes their cowardice. Every day that he shows no fear, he highlights theirs.

Evil always seems more formidable than does good. Some even scoff at the very notion of its existence, subconsciously preempting accusations that they might be enabling or siding with any such thing. If one doesn't delineate the world in terms of good and evil, one never has to admit that he is supporting the wrong camp, or why. Fear is masked, and the hunt to collect moral justification for one's position commences.

"We now have a president who thinks in terms of good and evil," balks actor Sean Penn.

Artists. Many of them have been expressing this sentiment in recent months. Evil is such an alien concept to this sensitive sort that when it slaps them across the face, a defense mechanism kicks in and reaches for an explanation, for a rationale to the irrational.

To Mr. Penn there is no such thing as clear-cut evil. It's been the foundation of storytelling over the centuries, but the actor has declared the centuries outmoded. Millennia of tales, and none of them rooted in reality. Good guy-bad guy. Hero-villain.

These timeless concepts must have originated from thin air, with no real-life models. The one example an artist will have at the ready, as though it's history's first and last, is Adolf Hitler. Yet today's Hitler isn't so easily defined. Political correctness has obscured truth from lie, has made wrong appear right and has justified evil, confusing contemporary generations.

The late Russian-American novelist Mark Aldanov had an insight into the subconscious motivation of those who obscure good and bad: Whom would one feel safer having as one's enemy? he asked. The side without standards or scruples, or the side governed by morality, which doesn't kill easily but exercises judiciousness and restraint?

Today's cowards, even if they know in their gut that the Islamic world is in the wrong, are scared to oppose it, for they know it has no internal checks on its behavior. So if crossing to the dark side will prolong their lives by a single day, they will buy time on evil's good side.

Even from the microcosmic view of a single college campus, a student may fear his Arabic peers and will sooner rail against the campus's pro-Israeli forces, since he is less likely to get beat up by Jewish students.

The international community adopts a similar approach to the Middle East. After all, who is easier to condemn--Arabs or Jews? And so the pressure always falls on the latter. Especially since everyone knows that their conduct is generally guided by principles of humanity, morality, honesty, compassion and justice.

Or else the photojournalism coming from the region would look entirely different from what it has been so far. We wouldn't see pictures of militants captured by the Israeli army being fed water by Israeli soldiers. We wouldn't see photographs of Palestinian schoolgirls chatting carefree as they walk past Israeli soldiers. We wouldn't have seen a photograph of a Palestinian man perched on a low ledge, casually observing machine-gun-wielding Israeli soldiers in the middle of a gun battle with militants as the soldiers practically brush by his dangling legs.

Nor would there be PBS footage of Palestinian women coming out from inside militants' homes during a raid, fearlessly mouthing off at the soldiers conducting it. Nor would there be 1.3 million Arab Israelis.

But to the UN, charged with promoting world peace, the Middle East serves as a constant reminder of its failed mission. As long as there is fighting, it reflects badly on them. The path of least resistance becomes tempting. If it leads to the extinction of one people over the other, that's one way to solve the problem--without the UN ever directly involving itself in the bloodshed.

The international community doesn't do what's right. It does what's easier. Who has time to actually sift through the facts, especially when that could lead to taking the path of greater resistance?

It's far easier to do what is popularly perceived as the right thing. On an individual level, this is driven by a desire for blamelessness and acceptance. One will never have to defend being "for peace" or be asked to explain the statement "the Palestinians are an occupied people." Humanitarianism is a seductive identity to take on, and there's a lot of ego in doing so. If one doesn't understand and doesn't care to understand the complexities--which are often simpler than those he must layer on to justify his position--one appears to be humane and enlightened and can go through life more expediently.

It is likewise ego that drives European countries to dissent from major U.S.-led efforts. Europe, itself essentially a Muslim country (yes, country), acts like something between a teenager trying to assert his independence and a wishy-washy third party waiting out the escalating conflict in order to align itself with whichever side seems more likely to win, whether right or wrong. So Europeans stand up to American might rather than Islamic might. What courage, after all, does it take to oppose America? America isn't going to terrorize them.

The internationals should note, however, that in traditional story lines good trumps evil. They should also respect history enough to know that committing to the dark side rarely scores any long-term points with it.

But the UN just may go along with the U.S. on this one--on Iraq. So that its member states can pretend they're good for something. And, no doubt, so they can later pressure the U.S. to pony up for building renovations. There has to be a payoff, after all. Doing the right thing alone isn't enough.

Which is proof that calls for coalitions, resolutions and other forms of international blessings are meant to obscure the obvious fact that America could do a far better job of governing the world single-handedly than in collaboration with the world. So as Bush finishes his father's work in Iraq, moves to undo Carter's handiwork in Iran, digs out from under Clinton's work everywhere and continues Reagan's work everywhere, he proves that getting one's hands dirty pursuing what is right is far less evil than keeping one's hands clean enabling the spread of what is wrong.

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JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2002, Julia Gorin