Unadulterated Evil: Remembering Manchester

In The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, radical evil is described in the following fashion:

By the way, a Bulgarian . . . told me about the crimes committed by Turks and Circassians in all parts of Bulgaria[.]  They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them all – all sorts of things you can't imagine.  People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel.

These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children too; cutting the unborn child from the mother's womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mother's eyes.  Doing it before the mother's eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. 

Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her.  They've planned a diversion; they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh.  They succeed, the baby laughs.  At that moment a Turk, points a pistol four inches from the baby's face.  The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby's face and blows out its brains.

The above passage was used in a 1980 essay by Kenneth R. Seeskin titled "The Reality of Radical Evil," wherein he describes the actions of the Nazis against the Jews during the Holocaust.

Seeskin maintains that such evil describes  "the actions of someone who understands only too well what human dignity is and takes pleasure in mocking it."  In fact, "he has chosen to profane the tenderest and most sacred of living creatures and to do so in a manner destined to show the victim and everyone else that he is fully aware of the horror in what he is doing."

Seeskin makes a distinction between those murderers with a conscience and those who do not possess one.  He maintains that this describes the "essence of radical evil.  It both denies God and puts something awful in His place.  In theological terms, it is really a form of idolatry – only not the kind which is satisfied with pagan gods or graven images.  The person who attempts to exterminate a whole people does not just succumb to evil, he worships it."

As with the Holocaust, Islamic jihadist evil is a "nihilistic, demonic celebration of death."  Consider the word celebration.  In the Muslim world, when the infidel is slaughtered, "they hand out sweets in jubilation" as the murderers are praised, and the families of the evildoers are paid for the evil perpetuated. 

Unfortunately, despite philosophers' and religious leaders' attempts to explain the evil, "morality has nothing to say to those who appear to choose evil purely for its own sake, nor reason to those who insist on knowing why such choices are made." 

But there certainly is a common thread that describes such evil.  It "unites cruelty, desecration, humiliation, and every other form of depravity.  Where God creates what has dignity or lasting significance, [evil doers] seek to reduce it to nothing.  Human beings, sacred articles, transcendent ideals – all are turned to waste."  Consider the destruction by ISIS of artifacts dating back thousands of years.

Furthermore, "[a]s Joseph Contrad once said: '[t]he belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary, [as] men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.'" 

As many so-called pundits and politicians attempt to mitigate the evil by equivocation and mouthing absurdities, it is important to recall "that when evil is so foul that its full horror defies description, the categories of more or less and of better or worse no longer apply."

Hence, "radical evil, unlike any normal transgression, cannot be forgiven – even by God."  For after all, "if there are sins whose evil lies beyond the bounds of fallibility – sins which involved not just the doing of evil but the adoration of it – can God forgive them as well?" 

So, the eternal question: why evil?

Seeskin asserts that "evil allows God to test the faith of the righteous.  Evil occurs so that God can discipline the righteous.  Evil is a means of making the wicked alter their ways.  The suffering of the innocent and the flourishing of the wicked will be corrected at some unspecified point in the future."

Yet, he admits that surely, "this line of thinking pushes our moral sensibilities to the breaking point or beyond."

Ultimately, "we must distinguish between permitting man to make his own choices and rescuing innocent victims when those choices [incline] towards catastrophe." 

On speaking of the Holocaust, Eliezer Berkovits maintains that "God hid his face."  For Seeskin, "to the atheist, suffering presents no problem because the universe lacks a transcendent power capable of redeeming it.  Likewise, suffering is not a problem for the orthodox theist because he believes that eventually all evil will be punished and all good will be rewarded."  Yet "intellectual honesty prevents us from being content with pat answers or simplistic theodicies." 

The 20th century was the prelude to the terrible reality of Islamic jihadist evil that now permeates the 21st century.  Europe is currently in a war for its very soul, but its leaders dabble in a Faustian game.  Likewise, in Canada, a Senate bill has been passed that "removes the right to revoke citizenship from dual nationals who are convicted terrorists."

One cannot make deals with evil.  Its very strength lies in its intractability and forbearance. 

Jennifer Roskies at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs explains that in "Israeli eyes, the trend to bend over backwards in order to avoid being labeled Islamophobic is a politically-correct nicety the West can ill afford."  Consequently, "Israelis look at European reluctance to label the nature of the threat they face by its true name – radical Islam – with the belief that they do so at their own peril."

We must rise up and fight this jihadist scourge with every ounce of strength we have.  On Saturday, June 10, 2017, ACT for America is having the first ever March Against Sharia in cities across the nation.  The site explains that "[t]his is a march against Sharia law and for human rights. Our nation is built on the freedom of religion – a pillar of our democracy – which we must always respect, protect, and honor. However many aspects of Sharia law run contrary to basic human rights and are completely incompatible with our laws and our democratic values. Therefore, as American citizens, we must become familiar with what Sharia is all about and we must speak out loudly about its tenets that are unacceptable – both to Americans and to humankind."

Eileen can be reached at middlemarch18@gmail.com.