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The Absence of Outrage

The Absence of Outrage

Were Americans more shocked by the evil spiraling out of control in the Middle East, or by Lady Gaga’s latest outfit?


Videos depicting the gruesome death of 1300 men, women and children by poison gas in Syria were posted online. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood torched several scores of churches, some dating back 1500 hundred years, while nuns were paraded in the streets like captured POWs.

Even as President Obama seems to finally doing something to degrade Assad’s capabilities, it is hard to say if Americans were shocked more by the twin towers of evil spiraling out of control in the Middle East, or by Lady Gaga’s latest outfit.

It can’t be for lack of information. We are bombarded by a steady stream of horrific images. But so far insofar as Egypt and Syria is concerned, we are inured to, not energized by the ‘beyond belief images of horror. In 2013, it is as if, we have reserved a seat in our living room for a new neighbor—the face of Evil.

How else to account that the mass gassings of children and torching of (Christian) houses of worship have generated nary a hint of righteous indignation, let alone G-d forbid, calls for action? Surely we know the truth: Systematic arson of churches will not end with burning buildings. It never does; we have been there before. Death is always horrible, but know that unless real action is taken, the use of chemical agents against civilian population will quickly become just another fact of life around the globe.

Do we understand that when we render ourselves morally impotent, we not only condemn more innocents, we endanger our own survival?

What’s worse than moral impotence? Deploying the moral equivalency card. After several days of denouncing the Egyptian military’s forceful intervention against the Muslim Brotherhood, Deputy Press Secretary John Earnest declared, “We have condemned in unambiguous terms all of the violence that has been perpetrated there in Egypt. We have been concerned and condemned the violence that was perpetrated by the government against peaceful protestors and we’re just as outraged and just as concerned about reports that Christian churches have been targeted.” Really? The Army-Muslim Brotherhood face-off is the equivalent to a nationwide pogrom against Christians?

Tyrants love moral vacuums. Tehran, Pyongyang, Al Qaeda affiliates, and Hezbollah are all taking note.

And how about our President’s “red line” on Syria? You know, the one that promised real action if the use of WMDs was ever proven? Well the latest deadly attack that may have left as many as 1,300 dead took place just miles from where UN inspectors had just arrived to investigate the last horror. Does anyone really believe the UN Security Council – with its guaranteed Russian veto can even deliver a proper obituary for 100,000 dead Syrians? Unless we take action—with or without NATO—to get rid of those stockpiles of poison gas, our “red lines” are as worthless as the in invisible ink with which they are drawn.

And what good are religious leaders if they cannot at least raise the alarm?

Shouldn’t they be organizing rallies and gatherings, if only to teach our children that there is right and wrong, good and evil? At least the World Council of Churches, which claims 590 million Protestant members is consistent. It was silent during the Holocaust, and it is silent once more when 8-10 million Christians are under siege. Pope Francis’ Vatican has been the exception. It did react to the gassing of Syrian civilians. Archbishop Zenari spoke of a Syrian people who “…are crying out to the international community to say, ‘Help us so that this war would end immediately. We have had enough; we can’t take it anymore. We can’t continue like this.’”

If nature abhors a vacuum, tyrants love moral vacuums. Tehran, Pyongyang, Al Qaeda affiliates, and Hezbollah are all taking note.

In 1988, when Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in Halabja, Iraq, famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal was one of the few who spoke up. The world was making a mistake, he warned. Despots will interpret the world’s silence in ways the world would regret.

This article was cowritten with Yitzchok Adlerstein, the director of interfaith affairs for the Wiesenthal Center.

August 28, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 12

(11) Reggie, September 2, 2013 4:48 PM

It is time...

...for "Never Again" to take on meaning outside Jewish culture and memory. It would too easy to share Burke's ubiquitous quote about the success of evil, and feel scholarly and erudite, while really doing nothing. The United States has lost the initiative here, but they, and the world community, have not lost the opportunity. SOMEONE killed all those stricken Syrians, and SOMETHING must be done by the world community. Any nation who would perpetrate, or allow to be perpetrated, such a horrible act, has lost its sovereignty and immunity from retaliation. The world should step in, ALL of us, and paint a broad and indelible red line here, for this regime and all others to see. To do this, we must all stop our parochialism and our provincialism and proclaim ourselves citizens of this planet, citizens who will not tolerate any murdering or any group, be they little ones in a peaceful school, or little ones in a violent country...or any other group. We, the citizens of this planet must say "Never again" and gather the moral authority to insure this.

(10) Alina, September 2, 2013 3:03 PM

What do you suggest?

Articles like this do nothing to further the conversation about Syria or any other foreign conflict. I think our response should be partly humanitarian and partly parental. When we were children squabbling with our siblings over toys, my parent's solution was always the same. "If you can't agree to play nice together, I will take the toy away and no one will get to play with it." In a similar fashion, we could simply offer thirty days to get out all the children and anyone else who wants to flee, then simply level the entire country. Or instead of leveling it, surround the borders so no one can get in or out and give those who feel the need one year to battle it out. Whoever emerges alive gets the privilege of rebuilding the country from the ground up, with no further aid from us, of course, after all no one wants help from the West. Either way, get the kids out. It is always the women and children who suffer the most in men's wars.

(9) scott, September 2, 2013 4:33 AM

Same Stuff Different Day

I never liked President Bush the second. Never voted for him. But I don't have the level of hatred for him that others of my political bent have. Because he was honest. If you actually listened to what he said in his campaigns...he did everything he said he would. And he got elected twice.

My father was a hard man on dogs. He believed that if the dog pooped in the house you rubbed his nose in it. You had to be clear about punishing negative behavior. So with President Bush, he did terrible things in his first term and then was reelected. The country failed to rub his nose in it and so he continued to do his business indoors. Americans trained him to keep doing what he was doing. Can't blame him.

I think it's kind of like that with what's happening in Syria. The leaders of Arab world continue to do these types of things And the Arabs keep putting people just like them in power. How can the world truly get excited about helping them? If we expend billions of dollars and hundreds of lives intervening to "help" them what will change?

They will still hate everyone else. They will "elect" another leader who will slaughter them or plunge themselves into twenty years of strife forcing millions into exile. Ever wonder what would happen if all the refugees actually stood and fought for their own rights instead of running away like cowards? Perhaps if we simply built a large cage around the countries in the region and prevented people from running every time things went bad they'd start making better choices for leaders.

I'm sorry those people died. It's terrible. But really...long term...what can anyone do to help? Walk into more IEDs?

Maybe we're just too tired of the same thing different day with these folks to be outraged anymore.

But Lady Gaga's wardrobe...there's a crisis we might be able to handle. Seriously.

(8) Mike, August 30, 2013 11:50 PM

It's up to congress.

Unfortunately our president has backed himself into a corner. He went on record in 2007 by saying that it is unconstitutional for a president to go to war without congress's approval. Recently he threatened Syria with retaliation if they used chemical weapons. When they used them he did nothing. Now they have used them again and he can't make up his mind what to do because the Republicans will hold him to his comments in 2007. He got us involved in Libya which led to the Benghazi incident. He got us involved in Egypt and helped the Muslim Brotherhood. Lets face it, he does not know what he is doing.

(7) Kenan Moss, August 30, 2013 5:17 PM

In memory of Martha Gelhorn

While politcians pander to the fantasies of the emotionally and intelectually challenged in exchange for power this moral blindness will continue. Martha Gelhorn judged the world for taking 12 years to force the gates of Buchenwald: they too were to busy having fun to be bothered by such nimiety. I wonder: will we ever be worthy of peace.

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