Calling evil by name

Calling evil by name

Steven Sotloff, an American journalist captured by ISIS, has been brutally murdered. Beheaded, in fact, in an act of grotesquerie that leaves us uncharacteristically speechless.

Photos of this barbarity have been posted, as 21st century technology is used in the service of 10th century evil.

It is hard to write about this nightmare without resorting to words we do not usually use except ironically. It is hard to imagine what sort of people – other than outright psychopaths – can contort their brains and their emotions in a way that would make this seem anything other than pure evil. It is impossible to understand how such evil can exist, and how it can inhabit human souls. It is impossible to know how such twisted perversity can be peddled as anything other than collective psychosis, although we know that the murderers try to pass off their actions as moral.

It is impossible to write about it without sputtering, without becoming a handwringing caricature, at least at first. That is because there is no nuance to evil, and no nuanced way to respond to it. Our obligation is to call it what it is. Evil.

Coincidentally, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote a column about his fight with the various newspapers that rejected his ads because they include a disturbing shot of American journalist James Foley just before he was beheaded. In truth, there is an argument to be made that using that photo, using his image, steals some of his dignity; some dignity should be left in death, particularly after a death as horrific as his. There also is an argument that children should not be exposed to such images, although of course they often are exposed to photos that would be even worse except that they are fictional. This one is real.

We believe, though, that just as it is important to name things properly – as we wrote last week, a terrorist is not a militant, and a murderer is not an executioner – it also is important at times not to avert our eyes. Most of us will not watch the video of a beheading, and we should not, but we should not fool ourselves.

Our enemies are real, they are violent, they are conscience-less, and they are evil.

And to Steven Sotloff, may your memory be for a blessing, and may your family find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

– JP