The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Munich and a “Cycle of Violence”

Steven Spielberg’s haunting and beautifully constructed movie, Munich, is the story of the aftermath of a terrorist massacre of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972 -- killings planned and executed by Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group. Spielberg tells the story of the Israeli agents who hunt down and kill the people who planned the massacre.

In Spielberg’s film the Israeli Mossad agents, each in his own way, question the humanity of targeted assassinations and feel guilt about the killings. They also take great pains not to kill innocents, although some people only peripherally connected to the Black September terrorists do die.

It’s fascinating that the viewer finds the angst of the Israelis to be completely believable. That’s probably because in the viewer’s heart of hearts, he recognizes that the Israelis are a people of conscience, a people who do not target innocents for slaughter.

At the same time, it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine similar angst on the part of the Islamic terrorists. They kill without conscience or remorse. They kill solely to destroy people, to terrorize societies, to eradicate ideas that might move them into the community of civilized nations. They murder in the name of Allah — a heresy so profound, it is stunning.

In many scenes and in many different ways, Munich suggests that if only the attacked would chose not to respond, then a ‘cycle of violence’ (the term is never used in the movie, but has become a watch word among those who criticize Israel and the United States for responding to terrorist attacks) would cease and reason would prevail. Like many idealistic arguments, this is a wonderful in the abstract, but flawed in the real world.

When taken at face value, the “cycle of violence” mantra exemplifies the childish notion that being nice to really bad people will cause them to be nice in return. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way. Especially when the really bad people want to cause you grave harm and behave irrationally (blowing yourself up to kill innocents is NOT a rational act).

In an ideal world, a violent act should be met with restraint, and if necessary, by negotiation and even concessions, if the party perpetrating the violence feels aggrieved. Throughout the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israelis have shown enormous restraint, often putting their own military in harm’s way to avoid killing innocents. They have negotiated in good faith, as evidenced by tangible geographic and economic concessions, often for little more than promises of peace – promises that have never been kept.

The violence faced by countries that are targets of Islamist terror is institutionalized. Sadly, it has become part of a culture of murder and destruction, it is delivered with forethought and without regard to who is harmed, it continues even after honest negotiations have tried to stop it, it is revered as martyrdom, and encouraged among the young.

There is no “cycle” in which a response to institutionalized terrorist acts is somehow morally equivalent to the terrorist act itself. The response is intending at incapacitating those who perpetrated and/or supported the terrorist acts so that other innocents are not slaughtered. Does violence beget violence? Sadly it does. But turning the other cheek is suicide.

Of course, one could argue that there is a chicken and egg problem here. Proponents of the cycle of violence philosophy argue about which came first – a terrorist act or the violent reaction. Hell, they even argue about who the real “terrorist” is. They twist themselves into intellectual knots in an effort to rationalize terrorism, to blame its victims, and to justify barbarity in the name of victimhood. It seems that many of the Left believe that there is something noble in “resistance” as evidenced by terrorist acts, that the perpetrators of terrorism are aggrieved and humiliated and have no other recourse. No recourse but to blow themselves up in nightclubs, pizza parlors, and buses, killing dozens of innocent men, woman and children?

For once, why doesn’t the world ask the terrorists to terminate the “cycle of violence”? It’s really very easy -- they can stop their terrorist acts.