One of the most frequent themes of my writings is how we--the generation with the 50% divorce rate and a professional singles scene--have forgotten how to love. But let me surprise you by complaining about how we have forgotten how to hate.
The media's treatment of the death of Haffez al Assad in recent days is a classic example of how the world has forgotten how to hate a tyrant. Here is a man who murdered more than 10,000 of his own countrymen at Hamah, who has never allowed his people a free election or free press, who denied his people the right even to gather in public, who for decades was listed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terror, and who gave asylum to some of the worst Nazi butchers, being remembered as a strong and capable leader by the world's media.
I was positively gobsmacked when I saw that our own highly popular leader, President Clinton, said about Assad, "I have met him many times and gotten to know him very well. We had our difference, but I always respected him." How can you say that you respected someone who murdered thousands of his own people and is still one of the world's leading sponsors of terrorism? How is it that we "respect" rather than abhor modern tyrants?
Even in Israel, where Assad was a sworn enemy, the strongest mainstream comments published were that "to mourn him is a waste of water" (Nahum Barnea).
Forgetting how to hate can be just as damaging as forgetting how to love. I realize that immersed as we are in a Christian culture that exhorts us to "turn the other cheek," this can sound quite absurd. Little do we remember, it seems, the aphorism that those who are kind to the cruel end up being cruel to the kind.
Indeed, exhortations to hate all manner of evil abound in the Bible. God Himself hates every form of immorality as harmful to mankind. Thus the book of Proverbs declares, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Likewise, King David declares regarding the cruel: "I have hated them with a deep loathing. They are as enemies to me."
Hatred is a valid emotion, an appropriate response, when directed at the truly evil--those who have gone beyond the pale of human decency by committing acts that unweave the basic fabric of civilized living. Contrary to Christianity, which advocates turning the other cheek to belligerence and loving the wicked, Judaism obligates us to despise and resist the wicked at all costs.
About two years ago, I was on the BBC, discussing the bombing of a gay pub that killed three. I referred to the bomber as an abomination. On the line was President Clinton's spiritual adviser, Pastor Tony Campolo, who cautioned that we had to love the bomber in the spirit of compassion and forgiveness. Victims of IRA terrorist attacks, who lost fathers or husbands, often immediately announce their forgiveness and love for the murderers. Moreover, the Italian government today released the pope's attempted assassin, Mehmet Al Agca, from prison, largely because of pressure from the Vatican and the pope himself.
I disagree vehemently: The individual who, motivated by irrational hatred, chooses to murder innocent victims is irretrievably wicked, has cast off the image of G-d that entitles him to love, and has forfeited his place in the human community.
Amid my deep and abiding respect for the Christian faith, I state unequivocally that to love the terrorist who bombs a school bus or the white supremacist who drags a black man three miles while tied to the back of a car is not just inane, it is deeply sinful. To love evil is itself evil and constitutes a passive form of complicity.
The Talmud certainly teaches that the true object of proper hatred is the sin, not the sinner, whose life must be respected and whose repentance effected. The Talmud also teaches that it is forbidden to rejoice at the downfall of even those sinners whom it is proper to hate: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth."
However, this attitude does not apply to impenitent and inveterate monsters who pay no heed to correction. For us to extend forgiveness and compassion to them in the name of religion is not just insidious, it is to mock G-d who has mercy for all yet demands justice for the innocent.
I know an atypical Christian artist who painted Jesus embracing Hitler. To me, the picture was obscene. "How can you have Jesus holding Hitler?" I objected. "That's the whole point. That's how far Jesus' love extends."
"But that's not love," I corrected him, "it's hatred. If you love Hitler, then you are showing contempt for the good and decent people whom he turned into ash and lampshades. The only way to react to incorrigible evil is to wage an incessant war against it."
I maintain that any the culture that does not hate Hitler and his ilk is a non-compassionate society. Indeed, to show kindness to the murderer is to violate the victim yet again. Thus, in the interest of justice the appropriate response to the evil person is to hate them with every fiber of our being and to hope they find no rest, neither in this world nor in the next.
The pacifist might respond that fighting hatred with hatred accomplishes nothing, that, as in the old Bob Dylan song, if we take an eye for an eye we all just end up blind. But this is poppycock: The purpose of our hatred is not revenge but preservation of justice. To this end, I wholeheartedly embrace the example of Simon Wiesenthal, one of the most inspirational men of the 20th century, who has devoted his life to the pursuit of justice by not allowing Nazi murderers to go their graves in peace.
We do not hunt Nazis in order to take revenge. We Jews have better things to do with our time than chase a bunch of pathetic, murderous thugs. Rather, we track them down because G-d at Sinai entrusted us with the promotion of justice, turning the jungle into a civilized society. We seek them out on behalf of all humanity so that all the world may know that for genocide there is no apology. In the words of Aristotle, "All virtue is summed up in dealing justly."
Justice is not a cultural construct. Less so is it a human invention imposed upon the members of society in order that they treat each other with decency and respect. Justice was not created for some utilitarian end. Rather, justice is intrinsic to human nature. We do not teach our children to refrain from stealing because they might get caught. Rather, we teach them that theft is intrinsically wrong, even if they could get away with it.
Two years ago I participated in a live forum about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Robyn Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. On the panel were three men who had been imprisoned with Mandela, and a fourth man as well. He was a white police officer who in 1988 had given the order to have two houses burned in the black townships in retaliation for a riot. Seven adults and five children were brutally murdered as a result of his command. However, because he confessed his sin to the commission he was let off scot-free. As he recounted his story, lamenting how much he now regretted his action, the audience began to weep and gave him a standing ovation.
I was aghast. "I'm sorry, but this is ridiculous," I called out. "Real life isn't a television talk show where you can stand up and say how awful you feel about killing children and get applause for it. You can't sadistically murder 12 innocent people by burning them alive and just say, 'I'm sorry'!"
One of the other panelists immediately attacked me, "That's because you Jews don't know how to forgive. In the Hebrew language, there isn't even a word for forgiveness."
"Nonsense," I responded. "In the Hebrew language there are three words for forgiveness: selicha, mechila, and kapparah. And the essence of the forgiveness is that an individual is so valuable that we allow them the opportunity to start afresh after error. But since repentance is based on the infinite value of human life, its premise cannot be simultaneously undermined by offering it to those who have irretrievably debased human life.For a murderer to cry in public and achieve instant absolution is an affront to everything forgiveness stands for."
Only if we hate the truly evil passionately will we summon the determination to fight them fervently. Odd and uncomfortable as it may seem, hatred has its place. Although referring to a different era in history, the words of Martin Luther King Jr. still ring true today: "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people."
Our real comments about the death of Assad should be that whatever good he did for his people was vastly outweighed by his decision to murder scores of innocent victims in cold blood, a condemnation for which there is no clemency.