The Civilized and the Damned

The massacre proved Voltaire’s observation — “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

.. Sadly, it’s been done before, when a ship full of Jews fleeing certain death at the hands of the Nazis was turned away off the Florida coast in 1939, a move that reflected polls that most Americans wanted to keep them out.

.. A great crisis can act as a valuable filter, a winnowing that separates true leaders from all the rest, the courageous from the cowards.

 

Unfollow: How a prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs.

As a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas, Phelps-Roper believed that AIDS was a curse sent by God. She believed that all manner of other tragedies—war, natural disaster, mass shootings—were warnings from God to a doomed nation, and that it was her duty to spread the news of His righteous judgments.

.. By the end of the day, Phelps-Roper had more than a thousand followers. She took the incident as an encouraging sign that Westboro’s message was well suited to social media.

.. Many of them worked as lawyers at Phelps Chartered. 

.. Megan recalls, “They thought it was hilarious, this eleven-year-old talking about hating Jews.”

.. Obedience was one of the most important values that Shirley instilled in Megan. She would sum up the Bible in three words: “Obey. Obey. Obey.” The smallest hint of dissent was seen as an intolerable act of rebellion against God.

.. Westboro started picketing in June, 1991

Hitler’s World

Human races, Hitler was convinced, were like species. The highest races were still evolving from the lower, which meant that interbreeding was possible but sinful. Races should behave like species, like mating with like and seeking to kill unlike. This for Hitler was a law, the law of racial struggle, as certain as the law of gravity. The struggle could never end, and it had no certain outcome. A race could triumph and flourish and could also be starved and extinguished.

In Hitler’s world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could.

..  Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.

.. In Hitler’s “struggle for the riches of nature,” it was a sin not to seize everything possible, and a crime to allow others to survive. Mercy violated the order of things because it allowed the weak to propagate.

..  For Hitler, our unhappy weakness was that we can think, realize that others belonging to other races can do the same, and thereby recognize them as fellow human beings.

.. If humans were in fact nothing more than an element of nature, and nature was known by science to be a bloody struggle, something beyond nature must have corrupted the species. For Hitler the bringer of the knowledge of good and evil on the earth, the destroyer of Eden, was the Jew. It was the Jew who told humans that they were above other animals, and had the capacity to decide their future for themselves. It was the Jew who introduced the false distinction between politics and nature, between humanity and struggle. Hitler’s destiny, as he saw it, was to redeem the original sin of Jewish spirituality and restore the paradise of blood. Since Homo sapiens can survive only by unrestrained racial killing, a Jewish triumph of reason over impulse would mean the end of the species.

.. At the same time, as he made clear in the very same passage of My Struggle, this ancient earth of races and extermination was the Creation of God. “Therefore I believe myself to be acting according to the wishes of the Creator. Insofar as I restrain the Jew, I am defending the work of the Lord.”

.. Hitler saw the species as divided into races, but denied that the Jews were one. Jews were not a lower or a higher race, but a nonrace, or a counterrace.

 

Why Iran’s Anti-Semitism Matters

A few days ago, I spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about the politics of the Iran deal (you can find the full interview here), and at one point in our conversation I put to Kerry what I thought was—to be honest—something of a gimme question: “Do you believe that Iranian leaders sincerely seek the elimination of the Jewish state?”

Kerry responded provocatively—provocatively, that is, if you understand Iranian leaders, and in particular the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the way I understand them: as people theologically committed to the destruction of Israel. Quotes such as this one from Khamenei help lead me to this conclusion: “This barbaric, wolflike, and infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated.”

.. Kerry’s understanding, in shorthand: Iran is dangerous to Israel at this moment (he repeated the term “at this moment” in his next statement, in fact); Iran has had plenty of opportunity to hurt Israel but has chosen not to; and, finally, the answer to the question concerning the true intentions of Iran’s leaders when it comes to Israel is unknowable, and also irrelevant to the current discussion.

.. the president said. “I take what the supreme leader says seriously. I think his ideology is steeped with anti-Semitism, and if he could, without catastrophic costs, inflict great harm on Israel, I’m confident that he would. But as I said, I think, the last time we spoke, it is possible for leaders or regimes to be cruel, bigoted, twisted in their worldviews and still make rational calculations with respect to their limits and their self-preservation.”

.. the third is that supporters of the deal appear to be as sure of their position as those who supported the Iraq War (yours truly among them) were of theirs.