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July 16, 2008

Comments

Good post, Hilzoy.

No real comment here; just a general (and long overdue) thank you for some of the best blogging on the web. Consistently thoughtful, well-researched, morally sensitive, and written with style. For you, Hilzoy, and your fellow commenters on this site.

Hilzoy,

Sometimes you hit the sweet spot and it's just fun to kick back and watch. Seriously. I must remind you that you do, indeed, rock.

(b) That there either was or was not a "moral difference between direct murder (as committed by Mr. Kuntar) and indirect murder (as committed by the IDF)".

Um, I thought publius did make precisely this claim when he wrote:

when military raids happen, the express purpose isn't to kill children. that happens, and it's a reason not to use military strikes. but it's not the intended purpose.

when you bash a child's skull with the butt of your rifle, you're trying to murder a child.

clear enough?

What am I missing here?

Um, I thought publius did make precisely this claim when he wrote: ... What am I missing here?

That he wrote it in a comment, not in the post to which hilzoy is referring.

Very well said hilzoy.

Over the last seven years, I have been horrified to see how many people in my country have somehow managed not to see why torturing people is just wrong. I assume that part of the reason why they feel the way they do is because they think: if you get all concerned about the rights of terrorists, or of people who have been accused of being terrorists, then you "must" somehow be on their side; and if you are on their side, then you are not on the side of your country, or of the people who jumped to their deaths on 9/11. Since they assume that thinking that torture is wrong is not something you can do regardless of sides, and regardless of how strongly you feel about terrorism or how much you love your country, they then feel compelled not to think that it is wrong.

I think you're right, but I think another reason why these people think torture isn't wrong is that they don't think of people like Samir Kuntar or Omar Khadr as real people who were (respectively) 16 and 15 when they killed, were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.

Khadr has now been held for 5 and a half years without a trial: if he is let go home to Canada, and if anything happens that could remotely be described as a "hero's welcome" when he comes home, don't you think some people are going to react with contumely towards Canada for presuming to welcome home someone who has been judged a terrorist and a murderer by American military?

No, individual bloggers don't have to write about everything. But we are allowed to consider context, especially when the blogger doesn't seem to be doing so.

Let's face it: publius's post was a troll. Not an intentional one, but a troll nonetheless. And it got plenty of bites.

On the moral bearings, sure. But I think all of the context from the comments matters primarily for one reason: when you ask how to respond to the fact that this guy is getting a hero's welcome, it's surely relevant that those welcoming him don't consider him "a man who once bashed in the skull of a 4-year old girl with the butt of his rifle." They probably believe his account of events, or are at least skeptical about the Israeli version. And there's little in their experience that would suggest they should do otherwise.

So while I'm very much in sympathy with Hilzoy's larger point, that we lose the moral standing to condemn atrocities committed by our enemies when we wink at those committed by our allies, or by those we consider victims, I think it's also worth remembering who is writing the story of atrocities that we're reading, and whether we've heard from all concerned parties. I've been wincing at the news about Kuntar all day. And then about five minutes ago I found out that when the killings happened, he was sixteen years old. Does that make his actions, if it happened as we've been told, OK? Absolutely not. But it certainly didn't jibe with the mental image of the "monster" I'd been holding until then, and reminded me that I don't necessarily have the information required to make an informed judgment on the matter.

And while we're taking a deep breath and firming up our moral moorings, let's go all the way to the radical position of condemning smashing a hypothetical thirteen-year-old's head with a rock, also. Regardless of whether he or she could be "mistaken for a combatant".

I realize that the parenthetical aside about the hypothetical thirteen-year-old was there just to strengthen the point about the completely immoral, killing-innocent-civilian aspect of Einat Haran's's murder.

However, it had the effect of introducing mitigating excuses and making more slippery the moral bearings. Because actual, non-hypothetical thirteen-year-old Gazans have been killed in numerous instances in the last five years, often with the excuse that they were really combatants, or were mistaken for combatants, or were creating a distraction for combatants...

So I wish that Hilzoy had not included the parenthetical, which not only weakens the point of the post (which is an excellent post) but whose associations paint a mental picture that makes it more difficult to accept the point of the post without internal protest.

Nell: sure. I just wanted to preemptively strike any counterargument based on that possibility.

Ah, didn't see your last.

Yeah, it might weaken it. I suppose I'm gunshy after years of addressing hypotheticals I had never thought of...

When you ask the question "Am I missing something?", you're going to get all kinds of replies, and lots of them aren't going to stick to just the thing you were originally talking about because after all, you just asked what you were missing, which I think most people would take as a request for others to provide some context and understanding. That's how I read the question and the responses, at least.

what she said

Despite that fact, people felt compelled to make assumptions about his views on these questions, and to criticize him for what they imagined he must think.

I would be inclined to agree with Slaney Black. The constructions "But maybe someone could explain" and "Am I missing something?" turned what should have been a banal moral observation into an implied accusation of unnamed parties. Given this, I think it would be unreasonable to complain that people made assumptions regarding his unstated views.

If I may offer a finer distinction here, I'd suggest that the tricky problem arises from the tone of any responses to Publius' post. Comments that criticize Publius' post for incompleteness do indeed some off the mark to me. But comments that, in effect, correct the incompleteness seem unobjectionable to me. In other words:

"Publius, your comment is one-sided because it doesn't address the other side"

is a bit confrontational, and in many circumstances, as hilzoy points out, can be unfair.

However, comments such as this:

"Publius, your comment is unobjectionable AND here is the other side of the story."

Are, IMO, reasonable responses to the post.

UPDATE: How could I have forgotten link">this post?

Apparently by a hidden desire to not want to post a mangled link.

=p

Hurray for Hilzoy! Hurray for Publius! A perfect post.

Post such as this are what led to my first (meant as internet compliments of the highest order, only) proposals of marriage to Hilzoy.

"UPDATE: How could I have forgotten link">this post?"

This is a broken link at the moment.

It's very hard to keep our moral bearings if we allow ourselves to lose hold of basic moral facts, or feel that we somehow must protest when someone simply states one. That's what happened to significant chunks of the right. Those of us who are on the left should not imagine that it cannot happen to us.

Well said, Hilzoy. As usual.

Just in case anyone thinks that this post has something to do with my views on Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, etc., here are some links to things I wrote during the war in Lebanon: at the very beginning, Bush's ME policy in pictures, more, possibly the clearest of the lot, afterwards. Plus, my first and only pledge drive. If anyone wants to argue that I'm saying what I say only because I take some side or other, these might be useful in figuring out what that side is.

On that: it turns out that Israel ended up "engaging ... in a bad policy badly." Best would have been not to go into Lebanon at all. Better would have not to have traded a live Kuntar for two corpses.

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....But I note that all he asked was: is he missing something when he is disgusted at the thought that this guy is getting a hero's welcome?....

Yes, he is missing the fact that the Israelis have no compunction about committing the same type of crimes and being supported in those crimes by their own and American citizens.

Hilzoy: Agreed. Certain acts are purely wrong. Torture is one; deliberately killing a four year old at close range is another.

Let's face it: publius's post was a troll. Not an intentional one, but a troll nonetheless.

Unless we're still talking about fishing, this is not what "trolling" means. The word you're looking for is "controversial," or perhaps "controvertible."

Unless we're still talking about fishing, this is not what "trolling" means. The word you're looking for is "controversial," or perhaps "controvertible."

How about incredibly light on content and very poorly thought out? I'm sure publius wasn't trolling. But he did write a very short post about an emotionally charged issue in a way that could easily be read as being provocative. If his post was longer and he had managed to flesh it out, it would have been less open to misinterpretation.

Moreover, I think publius' post actually was intended to be provocative. After all, there is a very serious problem where "people" refuse to criticize Hezbollah or the Iranian regime because we don't want to encourage the neocons. In light of that, I think it is very clear that we need bold leaders to step forth and boldly criticize the killing of children. Of course, saying "man, killing children is really sick and wrong" is too simple for a blog post, so these bold leaders had better phrase their disgust in the form of a pretend question whose answers they need not consider.

But perhaps I'm wrong. publius, would you mind explaining why you expect Lebanese people to uncritically accept the word of Israeli government officials in politically significant cases? Or why you find it surprising that people who have just been bombed by Israel might be happy at the symbolic victory associated with the return of someone who fought Israel and won without looking to closely at the details? You've done a very good job of saying over and over again how no one has answered your question. Well, there are two answers above. Do they satisfy you? And if not, can you explain why?

publius, if I've missed any instances where you've thoughtfully considered answers to the question you posed and engaged with them, I apologize.

I haven't read through the entire comments thread to Publius' post, but I think there are two reasons people were put off by it. The first is one Publius mentions in a later comment -- that invitations to condemn other countries tend to become invitations to invade other countries these days.

But there's a second reason that's more important. Yes, Publius IS missing something: in-depth knowledge of the history and culture of the region being discussed. Of course the man who killed a four-year-old is awful, and really no context is necessary to make that judgment. But when we look at people from a distant country and see behavior we find strange or even reprehensible (and here I refer to the people cheering for Kuntar, not to Kuntar himself), the noble impulse is not to go with our gut reaction, but to make an honest effort to find out the reasons for the unexpected behavior. In this particular case, it's unlikely that more information will change our first impression; but the urge to condemn without even a cursory attempt to inform oneself or understand -- the combination of the morally haughty tone with what I imagine to be practical ignorance -- is what rubs people, or at least me, the wrong way.

Actually, and just to add to my last comment, of course you might end up both understanding the strange behavior and still condemning it at the same time. But it still seems to me that the truly moral impulse is the one to understand, not the one to convoke a group condemnation.

I think you've lost your moral bearings sometimes if you aren't willing to condemn certain acts. And some of those are committed by groups. Understanding and condemning aren't mutually exclusive.

Note that I don't think you can blame people for failing to condemn acts which they don't believe occurred. Just like I can't say that publius is an evil person because he refuses to condemn the US Air Force for nuking Beijing last year. Now, you can condemn those people for being willfully ignorant or for refusing to accept a truth so obvious as to be irrefutable. But you have to actually go through the trouble of doing that rather than just saying that all people who won't condemn last year's nuking of Beijing are immoral people.

I haven't read all the comments to publius's post (I have neither the time or energy just now) but let me see if I have this straight:

Publius said that any guy who goes around smashing little girl's heads in with a rifle butt is not a hero (or at least, he doesn't get it)....

And people complained??????

I don't get THAT. Somethings are just what they are. Purposefully killing a 4 yr old child (and then bragging about it) is wrong and a sure sign of a sociopath... and anybody who makes excuses for it is just as sick as he.

If my 4 yr old child or grandchild was killed in so heinous a manner... I would want blood, and not the easy kind of blood either. Imagine that it was yours...

ps: I am just as sympathetic to the "Palestinian plight" as any one, but somethings are WRONG... and if you don't get that, that you are more lost than Custer.

pss: thank you Hilzoy.

Sorry, but Publius was clearly commenting on *their* savagery. He clarified in a comment that he thinks it's acceptable to murder children so long as you do it with a plane, and actually, so did you.

You commented:

"Also, I think the reason the kid's skull is salient isn't just that it's horrible, viscerally; it's that unlike killing a kid with a stray bullet, when you really were attempting to hit something else, smashing a kid's skull in is something you cannot do en route to a legitimate military objective."

So it's fine to murder children so long as you have a "legitimate military objective". That is a tenet of Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. They have a "legitimate" cause and the Arabs don't.

This is how the "civilised" have ever excused their atrocities against the "uncivilised", and while the disgusting bastards who make this sort of thing happen have mealymouthed supporters like you guys, it will continue.

And what Publius was missing is that *everyone* gives medals to murderers. You're just quibbling over the means of the murder.

"I am just as sympathetic to the "Palestinian plight" as any one, but somethings are WRONG."

Way to miss the point. The point is that LOTS of things are wrong, but Publius spares his disgust for *their* wrong.

It's dangerous because it's very hard to keep your moral bearings if you cannot just take it to be obvious that smashing a kid's head against a rock is a bad thing, and that people who applaud people who smash kids' heads against rocks are making a deep moral mistake.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=23&chapter=137&version=31&context=chapter>Psalms 137
8 O Daughter of Babylon,
doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-

9 he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

Some subset of death and destruction wrought by both sides is morally acceptable under jus in bello criteria--although it would be infinitely preferable for peace to render it unnecessary. Some subset of death and destruction wrought by both sides is not.

Excusing brutal acts by an "in group" with reference to brutal acts of an "out group" is part of the problem.

I find grief makes more sense than disgust. Disgust at the welcome given to Samir Kuntar makes a host of political assumptions about what Samir Kuntar intended to do (we can never really know), about whether it makes a difference if you do these things by dropping a bomb from an aeroplane (not to the children who get killed or disfigured), and what his supporters believe (we can't know). But we can know pretty well what Einat Haran went through on that beach. We can know she had her life taken from her for no acceptable reason. We can know that no kid deserves to die, or to die like that. And we can know that attitudes don't really matter: Einat Haran lost her life, and the world lost what she might have made of that life, and the rest doesn't matter much.

Way to miss ALL the points Dr Zen...

Publius said some things are just plain wrong, no matter who does them,

Hilzoy said Publius was not talking about all the wrongs in the world, just this one and how is it such a person can be hailed as a hero,

and I was trying to say (now I will make it clear) ...

Thank You Publius, for showing us all that idiots exist on the left, as well as the right, that "moral relatevism" (sp?) is a sickness we are all subject to when we forget that some things are right and others are wrong, that the ends DO NOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS.

John Spragge:

I could not have said it better. Such eloquence... I wish it were mine. I will quote you someday.

Now I have to go.

tom

dr zen: please see my response here.

I will add only: saying that something is "unlike" something else that is really, really bad is not the same as saying it's "fine".

Publius said some things are just plain wrong, no matter who does them

I'm sorry, he said no such thing. He said that it was disgusting that Einat Haran's killer was getting a hero's welcome, and he said it in the form of a question that implied that some unnamed reader might disagree and feel it wasn't disgusting. If we ignore the implication in his post, we have a ridiculously banal post that should serve no purpose beyond tuning the acoustics of an echo chamber. If we choose to see implications, the post can easily take on the appearance of trolling.

Thank You Publius, for showing us all that idiots exist on the left, as well as the right, that "moral relatevism" (sp?) is a sickness we are all subject to when we forget that some things are right and others are wrong, that the ends DO NOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS.

Ironically, if this was "shown" it was shown not in the post but in the comments when protests were raised against the notion that killing children by bombing is equally unacceptable and wrong... protests raised by Publius, amongst others.

Exactly right-

And you don't even need to say this:

"Just in case anyone thinks that this post has something to do with my views on Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, etc., here are some links to things I wrote during the war in Lebanon: at the very beginning, Bush's ME policy in pictures, more, possibly the clearest of the lot, afterwards. Plus, my first and only pledge drive. If anyone wants to argue that I'm saying what I say only because I take some side or other, these might be useful in figuring out what that side is."

to justify your position. What you said above it right no matter what you think on it.

"Yes, he is missing the fact that the Israelis have no compunction about committing the same type of crimes and being supported in those crimes by their own and American citizens."

I think that any analysis that lumps together all people collectively -- and this applies to "the Palestinians," "the Americans," "the Lebanese," "the Chinese," "the Pakistanis," "the Zimbabweans," "the Iranians," "the Syrians," "the Arabs," "the Europeans," "the French," and so on and so forth, and every other collective group that isn't perfectly united in one homogenous political view represented by a united government -- which, incidentally, certainly doesn't describe any of the above polities -- -- and blames them all homogenously for specific decisions of either their government on a given day, or decisions of a smaller number of the collective, is of limited usefulness at best, and a serious mistake in assigning responsibility when worse.

It's generally, I think, unhelpful, save for being self-rightous towards an entire group of people who didn't, in fact, make the relevant decision collectively.

What we mostly wind up with as a conclusion, if applied fairly all around, is: "people do evil things."

Which is true, but not a terribly useful insight.

And generally, while I'm as tempted to be, and very often act as, self-rightous as anyone, sometimes these arguments could do with a touch less of that all around.

Me, I don't blame all Palestinians for any given Palestinian act, I don't blame all Russians for any given Russian act, I don't blame all Americans for any given American act -- even though we're a democracy -- and so on all around.

I know there will be argument over this, mileage varies, but I'm not planning to engage; I merely wished to make this point once, and again I'm outa here. Enjoy any further argument amongst yourselves.

hilzoy wrote:

"I assume that part of the reason why they feel the way they do is because they think: if you get all concerned about the rights of terrorists, or of people who have been accused of being terrorists, then you "must" somehow be on their side..."

I'd go one step further and say that opposition to torture is what puts us on the side of the good guys, in opposition to the terrorists. As Michael Kinsley once said --

“[I believe] that monsters remain human beings. In fact, to reduce them to a subhuman level is to exonerate them of their acts of terrorism and mass murder – just as animals are not deemed morally responsible for killing. Insisting on the humanity of terrorists is, in fact, critical to maintaining their profound responsibility for the evil they commit.”

I guess that's sort of a more nuanced way of saying, "if we act like terrorists, the terrorists win."

I think that any analysis that lumps together all people collectively -- and this applies to ... and so on and so forth, and every other collective group that isn't perfectly united in one homogenous political view represented by a united government...and blames them all homogenously for specific decisions of either their government on a given day, or decisions of a smaller number of the collective, is of limited usefulness at best, and a serious mistake in assigning responsibility when worse.

I agree very much with this statement. Which is one reason that I thought the original post was somewhat wrongheaded. Asking about "Lebanon's" behavior in this context is rather nonsensical.

In that spirit though, I'd like to thank von for going out of his way to qualify his statements about what "a minority of Lebanese people" did or said or believe. Props for that.

come on, hilzoy, what kinds of things are disgusting?

I tell ya, with publius, I find it discouraging to read a well educated, no doubt job-secure writer who cannot hear the sound of his or her own self-righteousness, or smell its stink.

her respondents are just throwing it back at her.

what kinds of things are disgusting?

">http://ace.mu.nu/"> I think the best plan is to hide this kind of stuff, and go on and on about how teh Christianists and the Israelis are so awful.

Nobody needs to be reminded about the other guys.

"Better would have not to have traded a live Kuntar for two corpses. "


According to NPR this morning (7/17), the Israelies traded a live Kuntar and the corpses of 200 Arabs killed by the Israelies for the two Israelie corpses.

"[I believe] that monsters remain human beings. In fact, to reduce them to a subhuman level is to exonerate them of their acts of terrorism and mass murder – just as animals are not deemed morally responsible for killing."

I don't want to go too far afield, but I don't think this is very insightful because it misses a fairly common understanding (at least in US Christian circles)--that of the fall from grace. To be monsterous is NOT to be subhuman in that world view. It is considered all too typical and doesn't relieve moral responsiblity at all.

Ah, the left blogosphere: where earnest, intelligent people can HAVE A DEBATE about whether someone who murders a child should be celebrated. Lovely.

Gator90,

As someone who doesn't really have skin in this game since I've never really been a commenter here, I'm still inclined to ask, against my bettter judgement, exactly where in this thread you can identify the *side* of this debate that claims that child murderers *should* be celebrated?

A simple quote of any commenter here will suffice.

So it's fine to murder children so long as you have a "legitimate military objective". That is a tenet of Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. They have a "legitimate" cause and the Arabs don't.

Talk about a non-seuqitor.

You are obviously completely uneducated about the meaning of the terms you use. THE LEGITIMACY OF A MILITARY OBJECTIVE NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH THE LEGITIMACY OF THE CAUSE!!

Saying someone is pursuing a legitimate military objetive is NOT saying that they are pursuing a legitimate cause and, conversely, denying that someone pursued a legitimate objective is NOT the same as saying that the person had no legitimate cause.

An objective can be legitimate even if the cause is not and it can be illegitimate even if the cause is just.


At least learn what words mean before you try and use them.

Lewis Carroll,

"maybe they're glad that one of their own is home after surviving decades in the prison of what they perceive to be the true moral monsters in the region."

Posted by: (The original) Francis | July 16, 2008 at 01:39 PM

There are plenty of other examples, more in the previous thread than this one, of people justifying the celebratory embrace of a child-killer. But you're probably right that I oversimplified. Perhaps I should have said:

Ah, the left blogosphere: where earnest, intelligent people can have a heated, passionate debate about whether it is acceptable to criticize public adulation for a child-killer if the killer is Arab or Muslim and the child was a Jewish Israeli. Lovely.

Got it. Moving of goalposts duly noted.

It seems the entire message of the debate, which I suppose can be safely boiled down to "explanation =/= justification" was lost on you.

Personally I haven't read one comment here that said it was unacceptable to criticize said public adulation.

@Gator90:
Ah, the left blogosphere: where earnest, intelligent people can have a heated, passionate debate about whether it is acceptable to criticize public adulation for a child-killer if the killer is Arab or Muslim and the child was a Jewish Israeli. Lovely.

Your quote shows understanding of how one might come to lionize Kuntar - it does not show lionization. Nor, might I add, does it show disapproval of being disgusted by the death of young Ms. Hunan. Please provide an example of reproach of being dismayed by the tone of Kuntar's homecoming, m'kay? And I don't mean criticism for the particular manner in which Publius or someone else here chose to phrase disapproval of Kuntar's reception, I mean criticism of disapproving of giving him a hero's welcome.

If by some miracle you do manage to find some examples of this, please also provide support for your insinuation that the reason disapproval of criticism of adulation of childkillers is being offered is because the child in question was an Israeli killed by an Arab. An ideal example would be a statement by one of said disapprovers expressing outrage at a childkilling that did not have an Israeli victim and an Arab perpetrator.

Also, provide any support whatever for your random insertion of "Muslim" into your last sentence, insofar as Kuntar is Druze, and he seems to be the only datapoint backing your righteous condemnation.

Lewis Carroll and NV,

Bottom line is, Publius said it was really fucked up that people are cheering for a guy who murdered a little kid. And Publius got blasted for it, to the point that Hilzoy felt the need to devote a whole new post to the idea that murdering a little kid is just wrong. Because the only moral response to Publius' post was, Yeah Publius, that's really fucked up. No explanation, no justification, no nothing.

Lewis Carroll, you and I have different understandings of the distinction between explanation and justification, and of how that distinction applies in some of the comments here. I'll leave it at that.

NV, I didn't know the killer was Druze; I assumed he was Arab or Muslim, which is why I said "Arab or Muslim." I admit to ignorance of the ethnicity and religion of the Druze people, and I will be more careful with such assumptions in future. Due to time constraints I must decline your requests for follow-up analysis of the commentary in the threads.

"Lewis Carroll, you and I have different understandings of the distinction between explanation and justification, and of how that distinction applies in some of the comments here. I'll leave it at that."

So to summarize, you made a claim, adduced no evidence for that claim, changed the content of your comment to suit some evidence that you did find, and then implied that the entire conversation was based on an incorrect perception by the commenters of the difference between explanation and justification, finally declining to enlighten all of us as to the correct distinction between the two.

All in all a worthy contribution to the discussion.

it's very hard to keep your moral bearings if you cannot just take it to be obvious that smashing a kid's head against a rock is a bad

Well said, Hilzoy. My sentiments exactly. This could have been the entire post.

But the celebration of Kuntar was the issue. Publius assumed that there would be no question about the act itself (as did I). Boy were we both wrong!

would you mind explaining why you expect Lebanese people to uncritically accept the word of Israeli government officials in politically significant cases? Or why you find it surprising that people who have just been bombed by Israel might be happy at the symbolic victory associated with the return of someone who fought Israel and won without looking to closely at the details?

These are some valid answers to the "what am I missing" argument. As opposed to those answers that were of the "but the Israelis do it too" ilk. Those were disturbing.

Hilzoy's point about leaping is well taken. And, as one on the right, I applaud her for her vicarious liberal introspection, even if it did make me look in the mirror vis-a-vis the whole torture thing (Again!).


Cf. Reginald Dyer, the commanding officer who directed the Amritsar massacre (1000+ dead):

The House of Lords and the Morning Post of Britain and some section of Britons at home, however, supported this massacre. * * *

On his return to Britain, General Dyer was presented with a purse of 26,000 pounds sterling, a huge sum in those days, which emerged from a collection on his behalf by the Morning Post, a conservative, pro-Imperialistic newspaper, which later merged with the Daily Telegraph. A Thirteen Women Committee was constituted to present "the Saviour of the Punjab with sword of honour and a purse."

Cheering for murderers is not so unheard-of.

Even the official count of 379 dead at Amritsar acknowledged a 6-week-old baby.

"Bottom line is, Publius said it was really fucked up that people are cheering for a guy who murdered a little kid. And Publius got blasted for it, to the point that Hilzoy felt the need to devote a whole new post to the idea that murdering a little kid is just wrong. Because the only moral response to Publius' post was, Yeah Publius, that's really fucked up. No explanation, no justification, no nothing." --Me at 3:31

Lewis Carroll, which part of that was unclear to you?

Bottom line is, Publius said it was really fucked up that people are cheering for a guy who murdered a little kid.

Really? He did? I thought he was only asking a question. I mean, I thought hilzoy's whole point was that publius was only asking an innocent question and was not making any claims. Maybe you could cite the part you're talking about?

Because the only moral response to Publius' post was, Yeah Publius, that's really fucked up. No explanation, no justification, no nothing.

So, your vision of OW in one in which the proprietors write very short posts offering profound insights such as "killing children is bad" and then everyone can say "yeah, it sure is" with absolutely no other discussion. And you think that would be...good?


You know, it is really wrong that you raped and killed so many innocent children. Now that I've said that, everyone has to agree that Gator90 is a rapist and murderer and if anyone doesn't agree, that means they're screwed up people who like child rape and child murder.

Bottom line is, Publius said it was really [fncked] up that people are cheering for a guy who murdered a little kid.

Lewis Carroll, which part of that was unclear to you?

Speaking for myself, it would be where you characterize Publius' post as a straightforward declaration, rather than a rhetorical question expressing bemusement as to why anyone mightn't share his disgust. The formulation was, to be generous, provocative. As in, phrased to provoke. Even if we assume it failed to provoke, its feigned ignorance displayed a strong lack of empathy (not sympathy, mind; one would expect and accept a lack of sympathy in such a statement), a "how could anyone be so barbaric as not to agree with my assessment?". Given that a straight reading of his post explicitly included a request for clarification as to how anyone could be other than disgusted with Kuntar being released home after 29 years of captivity, I daresay I can't agree with your assertion that the only conceivably civilized response would be unwavering blind vulgar affirmation. IOW, Publius' post was poorly written, if it was not meant to provoke.

Also, as an FYI, profanity is prohibited under the posting rules.

Um, Turb, methinks you could have chosen a better means of making your point.

NV, you are educating me today -- I was unaware of the profanity rule. Fiddlesticks.

Can we agree that Publius asked a rhetorical question expressing disgust with the adulation given a child-killer? Your characterization of that question as "provocative" is a perfect illustration of my point. What kind of person is "provoked" by an expression of disgust at the phenomenon of people cheering a child-killer? How, in the name of all that is decent, did that question "provoke" you?

Um, Turb, methinks you could have chosen a better means of making your point.

You're right. I regret calling Gator90 a child rapist and murderer. I had hoped that doing so might force him to consider that the mere act of issuing an accusation does not make the accusation true, and I further hoped that the absurdity of the charge would demonstrate that I was being facetious, but it was a stupid thing to do and I apologize.

Can we agree that Publius asked a rhetorical question expressing disgust with the adulation given a child-killer?

Maybe. Can you quote the parts that make it obvious that the question was rhetorical? If it was a larger post, I could see a throwaway question at the end as being rhetorical. But this was a three sentence post where two of the sentences were questions. It didn't strike me as a rhetorical question then, it doesn't do so now upon rereading it, and nothing that either publius or hilzoy has said suggests it should be read as a rhetorical question. If you want to convince me it was rhetorical, I'll need some kind of evidence.

Your characterization of that question as "provocative" is a perfect illustration of my point. What kind of person is "provoked" by an expression of disgust at the phenomenon of people cheering a child-killer?

The kind of person who doesn't believe that this guy actually killed a child? Most people accept the idea that governments sometimes lie. Or maybe just the kind of person who spent 30 seconds trying to understand how people who have survived an Israeli attempt to ruin their country might react to such a story?

Look, just so I'm clear, are you saying that we all must accept uncritically every single thing that the Israeli government says? And are you also saying that every single person in Lebanon must accept as gospel truth every single thing that the Israeli government says?

people cheering a child-killer

Please note that the people in question do not believe that Kuntar murdered a child. They believe that he was fighting for his country and the child was killed by accident. You may question whether that belief is credible, but "freedom fighters" who "accidently" kill children are hailed as heroes all the time (as with the IDF).

There's a lot more nuance to the post than you would make it seem.

"As opposed to those answers that were of the "but the Israelis do it too" ilk. Those were disturbing."

Why? When I write on the Israel/Palestinian or Israeli/Lebanese conflict, I'm usually very careful to point out that both sides are guilty of gruesome atrocities. Occasionally (this happened at another blog a month or two ago) I get chewed out for doing this--at another blog I said that the Arab resistance to Israeli colonialism was often brutal and savage and in response someone went berserk, going through a long list of Israeli atrocities against Arabs. Which I think would have been perfectly justifiable, if it were not for the fact that I had (one or two sentences earlier) said that Israel was guilty of ethnic cleansing.

Publius expressed disgust over "Lebanon's" support for a child killer. I think it's perfectly reasonable for commenters to point out that "Israel" has been guilty of the same sort of thing. Does anyone seriously think that if Publius had written a post criticizing the Israelis this way that there wouldn't have been the same type of reaction from some of the very people who supported Publius this time?

As might be obvious from what I just said, I don't entirely agree with hilzoy's point. When I read an opinion piece about some conflict and the person condemns atrocity X committed by one side, unless I know something about that person I'm immediately going to start wondering "What does he think about atrocity Y committed by the other side?" And I've got Orwell on my side--read "Notes on Nationalism". People are born hypocrites on human rights, unless they make a conscious effort not to be like this. Some people do make that effort and even then, it's not easy to avoid the temptations of ideological bias.

Now in the case of torture, I don't require Americans writing on this subject to cover their ass by denouncing suicide bombing. I take it for granted that everyone in the political mainstream and the segments of the far left that I read think that suicide bombing is evil. Or when I read hilzoy denouncing Bush's Iraq policy, I don't sit back and wonder if she approves of the terrorist actions of the Iraqi "resistance". (DaveC might wonder about this, but that's just him.) But if I were reading someone from Gaza writing about Israeli atrocities, then yes, I'd wonder "But what do you think about suicide bombing?" And for that matter, on the fringier parts of the fringe left, you can find people who defend suicide bombing, so when I read someone on the far left vehemently denouncing Israel, I will generally try to find out what they think of Arab terrorism before I take them seriously.

Now in this case, when I read an American denouncing Arab atrocities against Israelis, I'm going to wonder if they are equally disgusted by Israeli atrocities against Arabs. It's a perfectly rational concern, because a great many Americans deny that there are any examples of Israeli terrorism against Arabs--just regrettable incidents of collateral damage, which are all the fault of the Arab terrorists.

hilzoy - You are hands down my favorite blogger. You get right to the heart of the matter and I always feel wiser after reading your words.

Can we agree that Publius asked a rhetorical question expressing disgust with the adulation given a child-killer? Your characterization of that question as "provocative" is a perfect illustration of my point. What kind of person is "provoked" by an expression of disgust at the phenomenon of people cheering a child-killer? How, in the name of all that is decent, did that question "provoke" you?

Ah, and here I go repeating myself, again. I am willing to take Publius' question as rhetorical. However, by doing so I perforce read certain implications in his post, as outlined in my prior comment. But if you'd like, I'll take another tact that tries to ignore the Lebanese-as-savages (with no mention of, e.g., Israeli credibility vis à vis said Lebanese) implications that viewing it as rhetorical raise. Let's assume that there were no explicit implications. What are we left with? A rhetorical question of, "Is there any reason I shouldn't think other people giving a hero's welcome for someone who I think is disgusting, is disgusting? Am I missing something?" Or more generally, "Should I not be disgusted by other people who don't act like I would in a given situation, even though they don't have the same experiences and beliefs regarding that situation?" This is what Publius' post boils down to when we look at exactly what he says, and does not say... because if we take the question as rhetorical, then we know the answer is meant to be "No, there's no reason you shouldn't; no, you're missing nothing." Which is to say, the Lebanese reaction must be viewed as disgusting as per his judgment; there can be no explanation or understanding that makes their attitude and actions understandable, or anything other than vile.

And here's the rub: I personally don't think Kuntar's a hero; I'm willing to accept the Israeli narrative; I'm willing to deem him an awful person who caved in the skull of little Einat Hunan... but I'm not willing to be disgusted that some portion of the Lebanese population isn't willing to buy into this, and in him see a man who was imprisoned by an aggressive foreign state when he was 16, locked up for the next 29 years, then finally allowed to come home. I think I understand how they've come to the conclusions they did, and their presumed path of reasoning seems reasonable, if they're not willing to believe everything I do. So I'm kinda hard-pressed to be disgusted by it.

Donald: Those were disturbing." Why?

It's not an Israeli/Arab thing. That's my point. Instead of responding to the moral atrocity at issue with simple revulsion, commenters seem to have to get an acknowledgment that the "other side" does it too, or worse, or whatever. It's disturbing we can't judge an act in isolation for its own merits. The tone of many of the comments in the other thread smacked of justification simply because of the need to have to discuss Israeli atrocities, for example. "But Billy did it too, mom" is not an excuse to steal cookies from the cookie jar. Condemn the cookie stealer. Not to make light of what happened (not my intent). It's just a lesson we seem to forget every once in a while as adults.

I hope this doesn't appear twice. I got a "dropped connection" message when I tried posting the first time.

bc--

Your point is legitimate, but I think you were misreading everyone else.

I've read people who do defend murder by Arab terrorists. The argument goes like this--"It's no worse than what Western governments do, therefore it's okay." But that's not what was going on here. There were a couple of different points being made, but nobody was saying that the murder of a child is a morally defensible act.

"The argument goes like this--"It's no worse than what Western governments do, therefore it's okay." But that's not what was going on here."

Um, to pre-empt misunderstanding, some people (including me) have said that Arab terrorism is no worse than what Western governments (including Israel) have done. But I don't think anyone here has taken the next step and concluded that terrorism is okay.

"Occasionally (this happened at another blog a month or two ago) I get chewed out for doing this"

Which is why I do my best to stay out of these "discussions." They generally take place amongst people who actually know very little about either Israel or Palestinians, and the primary motivation of most people seems to be to Mau-Mau self-righteously for one side or another, in an attempt to demonstrate nothing more or less than the profound evil of The Other Side, which is far worse than the evil of One's Chosen Side.

This, I suggest, is less than a useful exercise.

But it apparently makes a lot of people feel good about themselves, which seems to be more or less the actual point of the exercise.

Myself, I have better uses for my time.

(Though not so much better that I can't spare a few seconds, of course, to self-righteously tell other people how unhelpful their efforts are. :-))

Hoo boy,

Ya know folks, this whole discussion reminds me of the time I came out of my house on South Jefferson and some punk kid stuck a knife in my face. I almost killed him, would have if he hadn't had 20 yrs on me and was 20yrs faster than me...

Funny thing, I didn't stop to think that "Why you poor little child, you have had such a deprived upbringing, you have never had anything given to you."

I didn't stop to think that, "I never had anything given to me either. I worked for my money."

No, all I thought was, "This punk wants to kill me." End of thought. Then I did something.

And when I hear of somebody smashing a 4 yr old childs skull,...

There is such a thing as right and wrong. Any person who can not see that...

"There is such a thing as right and wrong."

Shazzam. Golly. Shucks, geewillikers. That puts a whole new light on the subject. Shame on all here who thought it was okay to murder a 4 year old. That would be--well, someone around here surely or you wouldn't be bothering to dispense your folksy wisdom on the subject.

No Mr. Johnson, of course no one around here thinks it's okay to murder a 4 year old. But deeming the murderer a hero because the 4 year old and her family were Jewish Israelis ... that's totally understandable! And anyone who doesn't like it is just narrow-minded and judgmental! And provocative!

"But deeming the murderer a hero because the 4 year old and her family were Jewish Israelis ... that's totally understandable! "

Of course it's understandable. In virtually every conflict you have large numbers of people who don't believe that their own side commits atrocities. If the claim is that many Arabs are like many Americans or many Israelis, I agree completely. Sometimes people even go so far as to support or idolize a leader who is a war criminal.

"I regret calling Gator90 a child rapist and murderer."

Of all the things I've read in the blogosphere, I believe that is my favorite quotation. Apology accepted Turbulence, no biggie -- we all get a little overheated sometimes.

Donald Johnson and Turbulence, it is true that Publius' post and my comments have presumed that Kuntar was guilty of the murder of the young girl, as per his conviction. Y'all are basically speculating that perhaps his admirers believe him to be innocent of the most gut-churningly horrific of the crimes of which he was convicted, and I guess, suggesting that his hero status is "understandable" since his other victims were adult Jewish Israeli civilians. (Apparently he initially confessed to 3 murders, then recanted the confession as to 2 of them.) He was convicted of all 3 murders in a court of law, based on the consistent testimony of multiple eyewitnesses. It was undisputed that he and his confederates snuck into Israel for the avowed purpose of murdering civilians, and equally undisputed that this purpose was accomplished, with the number and ages of the victims the only matter in any supposed dispute.

If you think that this animal's "hero" status is "understandable," then you and I simply reside in different moral universes. I don't know what else to say.

Gator80: It was undisputed that he and his confederates snuck into Israel for the avowed purpose of murdering civilians, and equally undisputed that this purpose was accomplished, with the number and ages of the victims the only matter in any supposed dispute.

Whereas because IDF soldiers don't have to "sneak" into the Occupied Territories to murder civilians, but can do so openly and go home without an hour's jail time, it's OK for them to have "hero status"?

Or would you argue (as I and others have argued) that it is always appalling to kill civilians, especially children, whatever the nationality of the people who do it, or their victims?

You're misunderstanding what "understandable" means, gator, and conveniently enough, your misunderstanding then allows you to get up on your moral high horse and proclaim your superiority, as I'm going to assume your moral universe is better than the one you've put me in. How strange the way your misunderstanding works.

I specifically said that many Arabs, Israelis, and Americans share a common tendency to overlook or disbelieve or (as Orwell put it) not even hear about the crimes of their own favorite tribe. There it is, in my preceding post. This is understandable to me, because I'm a Christian with an old-fashioned belief in innate moral depravity, which manifests itself in many ways, one of them being bottomless hypocrisy on atrocities and who commits them in wartime. It's always the Bad Other. Arabs fall into this. So do Israelis and Americans. All of us humans have a tendency this way, unless we are aware of the problem and make a conscious effort to avoid it and even then we're likely to fail at one time or another.

Try to spin that--I'm curious to see the results.

(Apparently he initially confessed to 3 murders, then recanted the confession as to 2 of them.)

Congrats, Gator, you're succeeding in making me question my willingness to believe Israeli accounts. Confessions made to an entity that routinely tortures captives is, um, kinda unconvincing. But I'll try to be open-minded and go no further than saying that I don't know if he did it or not.

He was convicted of all 3 murders in a court of law, based on the consistent testimony of multiple eyewitnesses.

Please provide a citation showing this. I've seen nothing regarding how many witnesses, and even presuming this doesn't seem entirely convincing given how objective the ruling judges sounded.

It was undisputed that he and his confederates snuck into Israel for the avowed purpose of murdering civilians, and equally undisputed that this purpose was accomplished, with the number and ages of the victims the only matter in any supposed dispute.

And now we move from obtuseness to outright deceit. This is undisputedly false. Kuntar and confederates infiltrated Israel to kidnap soldiers to use as bargaining chips for the release of Lebanese prisoners. This, no matter how much you want it to be, is not in dispute. What is in dispute is what precisely took place once the operation went SNAFU.

Jesurgislac,

Yes, it is always appalling when civilians and especially children are killed. It is even more appalling when they are killed intentionally. If you assume I would excuse such killings by the IDF or deny that they have occurred, you assume incorrectly. But we were talking about the public embrace of a specific and extraordinarily heinous murderer. In a better world, that specific topic could be discussed without any perceived obligation to provide "balance" by talking about how terrible Israel is.

DJ,

Your points about hypocrisy being inherent to the human condition are well taken. It is certainly true that we all fall into that trap sometimes. One of my greatest disappointments as an American has been our society's refusal to recognize the barbaric nature of our recent war of aggression, and of our on-going torture regime.

That said, I still think that celebrating Samir Kuntar is revolting, depraved, and utterly inexcusable. That is not altered by any litany of Israel's sins, nor by philosophical ruminations about tribal identification. And if you disagree, then yes, I believe you are morally defective.

NV,

Most of what I know about the attack comes from the Wikipedia entry on "Samir Kuntar" and the links contained therein. Didn't see anything about kidnapping soldiers. Did see that he and his buddies broke into the apartment of a civilian family and took a father and his little girl hostage, and the father and the little girl then died violently in front of several witnesses who said Kuntar did it.

Gosh, what coulda happened? Ah yes, Kuntar went into Israel to bravely kidnap (but not kill because he is a humanitarian) IDF soldiers, but couldn't find any so he knocked on the door of a family's apartment to ask for directions to the nearest army base, and then the cops came and mistakenly assumed that the father & daughter were hostages, and the cops opened fire but killed the father and daughter while missing Kuntar (oops!), and then a flying unicorn happened by and whacked the girl's head with its hoof, causing her brain matter to splatter onto the butt of Kuntar's rifle. Unlucky Kuntar! And the witnesses were afraid to say they saw a flying unicorn, so they lied and pinned it on poor, misunderstood Kuntar.

Or maybe he's a vicious murderer being celebrated by people who believe that viciously murdering Israeli Jews is heroic.

Whatever.

"that said, I still think that celebrating Samir Kuntar is revolting, depraved, and utterly inexcusable. That is not altered by any litany of Israel's sins, nor by philosophical ruminations about tribal identification. And if you disagree, then yes, I believe you are morally defective."

Of course I'm morally defective. If I had much hair left, I'd tear it out. That's my fracking point--humans are morally defective. I could type it a few more times if it'll help get the message across. The Arabs who celebrate Kuntar's "heroism" are acting like moral morons--i.e., they remind me of typical human beings involved in some longrunning vicious conflict where atrocities have been committed on both sides, where torture has been routine (on both sides), etc....

Completely understandable, of course. I know what people in this country were like right after 9/11--driveling idiots in some cases, people who wanted to drop the Big One. I actually think the Bush Administration was relatively moderate in its actions compared to what many Americans would have wanted to do.

Or maybe he's a vicious murderer being celebrated by people who believe that viciously murdering Israeli Jews is heroic.

Or maybe he's a murder who is being loudly welcomed home by people who don't find the claims of Israel all that credible. But hey, that's the same thing, right?

We're done here, I think. You're unwilling to be swayed from your position that people in a society attacked politically and militarily by a foreign state are morally defective if they are not as ready to believe that state's claims (particularly when those claims spin nicely into the narrative that it' trying to create) as someone half a world away (I presume) in a nation very sympathetic to said state where questioning its credibility is often argued by the media and politicians to be anti-Semitic. I.e., they're bad because they don't believe what you believe, even though they're not receiving the same information in the same manner. Lovely. Good day.

(Or, what Donald Johnson has been saying more eloquently than I.)

Israeli journalist Chen Kotes-Bar distills a series of one-on-one meetings she conducted over a four year period with a then-imprisoned Samir Qantar into a single searing profile.

Some late thoughts:

Hilzoy, you mention people asking Publius 'What his reaction was to "the Israeli pilots when they returned from the air raid in 2006 that killed not one but 34 children", and the welcome they received.'

That points out something here - people criticize many in Lebanon who praised the released terrorist as a hero.

However, does anybody think for a moment that, if the exchange had returned a living Israeli pilot, that many in Israel would have praised him as a hero?

"However, does anybody think for a moment that, if the exchange had returned a living Israeli pilot, that many in Israel would have praised him as a hero?"


Praising one's own war criminals, or being reluctant to believe that they are war criminals, is pretty much a cultural universal. The number of people who do this in a given society goes up or down depending on circumstances, but when there is a war going on or a very very cold peace, it's likely to be pretty high. And there's probably always going to be a core group of people who refuse to admit the truth. I know someone whose sisters are the kind and decent and loving in their daily lives who still defend Bush's torture policies. And they're not stupid either--I've read emails from one of them. Tranplant them to the Middle East and alter a few superficial cultural parameters in their brains and you've got Kuntar supporters.

"Tranplant them to the Middle East and alter a few superficial cultural parameters in their brains and you've got Kuntar supporters."

BTW - a more accurate alteration would involve inflicting a 9/11 after 9/11 after... for a few decades. Imagine if Al Qaida had planned a series of independent attacks (e.g., pre-stashed truck bombs, parcel bombs in airline cargo, well-engineered attacks on chemical facilities, infrastructure attacks, bomb attacks in malls, subways, sporting events...), and had kiled tens of thousands of people in the USA, over the course of a year or two?

I didn't know anything about this guy Kuntar until I started reading this thread, but there are too many discrepancies in Gator90's comments, so I'm going to conclude he's the one who's lying. And confessions are notoriously unreliable, especially confessions extracted under torture.

But even if the Lebanese cheering Kuntar believe the Israeli government's account (which strikes me as unlikely at best) perhaps what's really disturbing people is the idea that perhaps the fighting isn't over just when we/the Israelis say it is?

I wonder what the press will say if Hezbollah's army ever invades Israel the way Israel keeps invading Lebanon.

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