As far as human morality has evolved, it seems that the world has basically gotten it right over the past few decades. Human rights are valued and (at least in theory) protected. We have an organization called the United Nations that is supposed to sow the seeds of peace and brotherhood among all humanity. Fascism and evil regimes are going out of style fast. And it seems like most of the world is more interested in living in peaceful coexistence than engaging in the pillage and plunder of previous centuries.
Nevertheless, there still seem to be an overwhelming number of bandits and tyrants willing to unleash untold destruction on us all to achieve their aims and preaching venomous intolerance and hatred. And, perhaps more disturbing, there are countless world bodies, academics and writers that are stepping forward to defend them, and to silence or indict their repressors. Welcome to the 21st Century.
All of this serves as a reminder that although we might have made tremendous progress toward world peace and prosperity, we’re not exactly there yet. There are still evil forces in the world that want to dominate it. But because evil knows it is losing the battle, it has changed tactics; because it knows that we will no longer heed its hateful rallying cries, it has become more creative – it has become adept at cloaking its message in the language of liberty and altruism. So, for example, whereas fifty years ago the aim of the Arab states was to (as they themselves proclaimed) “drive the Jews into the sea,” today their goal is the ostensibly benevolent gesture of “liberating occupied Palestine.” And whereas sixty years ago Europe sought to cremate the world’s Jews, today Europe seeks to extol the virtues of the Palestinian resistance and isolate the Israeli oppressor, effectively condoning the murder of Jews and denying Israel’s right to exist.
This is the strategy of “misplacement.” It is what you do when you are up against a wall, when no one is willing to entertain your true position. So evil, in its desperation, is taking ideologies of goodness – human rights, anti-oppression, peace – and placing them out of context, and most of humanity is lapping it up because they would rather die in the illusion of peace then have to live through more war.
An ideology is constructed to be relevant to a certain time, place and circumstance. Take the ideology out of its proper context, and you can use as a tool to destroy that which it seeks to uphold. Human rights, for example, is certainly a noble agenda. But using the banner of human rights to justify and disseminate hate and murder is certainly a perversion of what human rights is all about.
In short, evil used to say, “we want to wipe out the Jews because we hate your guts, because your righteous existence is an obstacle to our ungodly agenda.” Today evil says that the Jews have to be wiped off the map because your existence is a mistake, because you are oppressing others, because you are an obstacle to the peace that we all want.
In a sense, this is even worse than outright evil, because at least then you know what you’re up against. Today, we are being asked to possess an unprecedented level of insight and clarity, to see through the superficial veils and falsehoods, however appealing or tempting they may be.
We are still in a state of exile. Exile means that things are out of place. Getting out of exile means using the gifts we are given to see past the illusion of misplacement, put things in their proper context, and fight for true justice.
Special thanks to Rabbi D. Bisk for contributing his insights to this article.