Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Punishment of and the War on Terrorists

I am a little confused about the attitudes some people have to terrorists -- that whatever we do to "them" is ok, 'cause "they" are bad actors who have done bad things to "us".

There are two issues here. One is who "they" are. For example, suppose we catch someone on a "battlefield", which in this war on terrorism we are told is everywhere (which makes the "innocent Americans will be safe as y'all know to stay away from battlefields, don't you" argument rather moot, doesn't it?), there is the epistemological issue of whether we know that person is actually a terrorist or not. Much has been discussed about the implications of our lack of knowledge, so I won't go further with this angle.

I wonder why, assuming that the person we have in custody is indeed a "terrorist", so many Americans feel it is A-OK to torture them, etc. Why so many Americans feel it is hunky-dory to treat a "bad person" inhumanely. As a Jew, of course, if we have established that a person is a "terrorist" (which is a big if), I feel it is not at all immoral to treat him or her according to the principle of lex talionis ... of course, though, it is immoral to take two eyes for an eye rather than merely one, so to speak.

But most Americans who are so gleeful about punishing terrorists are not Jewish. Indeed, some of the strongest support for our President and his policies comes from the "America is a Christian nation" crowd. And, I cannot figure out how, according to the teachings of Jesus, whom Christians claim is the Messiah and Son of God, it is at all acceptable to punish terrorists even in accordance with their crimes. How does Christian teaching even support lex talionis, forget about supporting an attitude which celebrates and considers just vengeant abuse of the least among us, e.g. those who are terrorists, whose treatment echos our treatment of the arch-radical leader Jesus? And if we are at war against terrorism, doesn't that make terrorists are enemy? And aren't Christians supposed to love their enemies?

Anyway, isn't a fundamental principle of Christianity that pretty much all sins are equal in their abominable nature (which is why even the most saintly individual requires the death of Jesus to achieve salvation) and "don't judge lest ye be judged"? I.e. an average Joe is no better than a terrorist, therefore for an average Joe to feel it is ok to torture a terrorist for his crimes means that he is ok with being tortured for his petty sins?

I just don't get how people who view themselves as Christians and who view this country as Christian have an attitude toward treating terrorists -- even assuming the people we have in custody for terrorist related acts are actually guilty -- that goes against everything Jesus was supposed to have taught and how they support our leaders who wish this country to behave in a manner that goes against the principles laid down by Jesus.

The religious right in this country needs to ask themselves a question: if Jesus were to be crucified today, would they be protesting that act of torture or would they be cheering on Pilate while denouncing those protesting as unpatriotic lovers of terrorism?

Of course, the religious right still blames the Jews for killing Jesus ... and right-wing Jews think these people are our "friends"? Gevalt!

Hey another great post! Just for the record, I'm Jewish, I don't like Bush and I am all for torturing terrorists.... As a matter of fact the respectful treatment of terrorists is quite low on the totem pole when it comes to issues that concern me.

Everytime this issue comes up, I just rewatch the Towers collapsing.. and pray for the day we catch Bin Laden so I can personally attend his public hanging. I'll even use my boy scout knowledge to tie the knot!
Nate -- you're Jewish? I never would have guessed ... ;)
Very nice site! » »
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