“La plus belle des ruses du Diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas.” Charles Baudelaire Le Jouer in Genereux (The Generous Gambler, Le Figaro, 1864
Christopher McQuarrie used that line when he wrote the 1995 movie script, “The Usual Suspects.” The character Kobayashi cited Baudelaire when he said the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
The second greatest trick is persuading us fear, bigotry, and hate is the new normal. In one year, Jews murdered at synagogues in the Pittsburgh, Muslims attacked and killed in New Zealand, and Christians slain by bombings in Sri Lanka. The only apparent reason for being targeted? A belief!
We use many names for it: hate, bigotry, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim, white-nationalism, or a plain garden variety ‘we’re-better-than-they are’ belief. Prejudice, fanaticism, xenophobia, and contempt for others have always been with us. Malevolence spreads around the world, concealed under the surface like a puss-filled boil. Those isms are a virus that lives in our cities and neighborhoods. We don’t see it, and it’s invisible. Many don’t want to acknowledge the disease. Those infected hide it from others, often using code words to obfuscate their views.
Visualize a perverse game of whack-a-mole. Hate pops up, is whacked back down, only to pop up somewhere else—to be whacked down—only to pop up again—ad infinitum, et ultra.
Religious and political fanatics from all sides claim the right to kill and maim in the name of their belief. They justify beliefs that “those other people” are evil should be eliminated.”
Battles for religious and political control are deeply rooted in biblical and other ancient histories.
The crusades were religious wars between Christians and Muslims. Who would gain control over holy sites sacred to both? Crusade expeditions occurred between 1096 and 1291. Christians claimed it was a Holy War. Muslims responded by declaring Jihad, the struggle or fight against the enemies of Islam. Jews defended Haifa against the crusaders and are said to have fought side-by-side with Muslim soldiers to defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders.
So, why? How is someone radicalized? How can somebody be convinced the other side is so evil, so feared? When territorial wars and battles no longer suffice, history answers the question with one word.
When it’s no longer enough to simply win. The enemy de jour is systematically eliminated.
Examples of Genocide make a list far too long for this article. But here’s a list of some highlights that will serve:
- The destruction of Carthage, which some allege may have been history’s first genocide
- The armies of the Mongol Empire spreading death and destruction across Europe in the 13th century
- Spain once welcomed Jews and Muslims, until they refused to convert to Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition is their heritage.
- The Congo between 1885 and 1908 was another example, genocide for geopolitical reasons.
- The Conquistadors in the Americas grabbed land, took slaves, and sought gold riches under the banner of Church and state.
- The intentional introduction of smallpox and other diseases were often the gift to indigenous populations, fever, guns, and a scorched-earth policy, courtesy of the Euro-Americans
- The Australians had their version aimed at aboriginals.
- The U.S. Congress introduced the Indian Removal Act and the result, the veil of tears
- The U.S. Army intentionally handed out contaminated blankets to eliminate American aboriginals
All that primordial ooze of hate leeched into more modern times:
- The Armenian Genocide in Turkey, 1914-1923, is still remembered.
- The intentional starvation during the Soviet Famine resulted in millions of deaths.
- The Rape of Nanking in 1938, part of Japanese policy towards Chinese and Korean populations, served territorial gain using genocidal policies.
- Above all, we can never ignore the ultimate example? Shoah, The Holocaust unleashed unimaginable evil upon Jews solely for being Jews. To that, they added The Roma, the incurably sick, the mentally disabled, communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and gays.
Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, is committed to four pillars of remembrance: commemoration, documentation, education, and research. Efforts like that remind us that it should never happen again.
In civics classes around the country, after World II ended, many were hopeful black and white newsreels showed images and stories about the atrocities during that time. It was to teach students the Holocaust should never happen again. Genocide is too horrific.
Those high school civics classes, following the war, were taught the evils of that war, and war criminals could be held accountable, students warned about the wickedness of dictatorship. But as time passed, such classes faded into obscurity.
Seventy years later, Holocaust deniers freely spread their ugly beliefs, unfettered by facts and reality. Their vile spreads at hypersonic speed with social media and secret-darknet-websites.
Alas, we did not learn. Do you want some proof?
- Idi Amin turning genocide loose in Uganda
- Tutsi-led armies butchering Hutus
- Ethnic cleansing in the Balkans
Will it ever say stop?
It will happen when good people stand up to the bullies of evil. In 1770 Edmund Burke, Irish statesman, and philosopher wrote good men, and women need to gather together to oppose the cabals of bad men. He said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” In 1916 a similar quotation appeared in a speech by the Reverend Charles F. Aked. “For evil men to accomplish their purpose, it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.”
Those challenging words ring today with a demand for decency but become elusive when action is required.
It takes courage to stand up to fanatics, whether Christian, Jew, or Muslim. Extremists have stolen the good from the Bible, the Quran, and the Torah, twisting words to create false ideologies.
We recoil from shouting, harangues, bullets, and bombs.
What happens when it becomes personal? How many of us are willing to stand up to a loud-mouthed bully, let alone someone with a gun or sword? Yet, we know from history that if we don’t confront hate, we will be drafted into an army to fight it later.
Has the Devil tricked us into thinking of hate, fear, and bigotry as the new normal?
He’s hiding in plain sight. He’s the face of the profane bigot who shows no respect for gender and religious conviction. He’s the bully who claims to know what’s best for everyone and seeks to impose that belief on others.
As asked earlier, can it be stopped? When will it end?
It will demand the very best of us. It will happen when we put peace, humility, and the compassion of Christianity not into words, but practice. When we put peace, humility, and the compassion of Judaism into practice. When we put peace, humility, and the compassion of Islam into practice. Many another great world religious and spiritual beliefs share those same values.
The three great Abrahamic faiths may not view Satan, the Devil, the same precise way, but there is a shared loathing of evil. As someone once said, evil is just the Devil without the letter D.
We all have a shared stake in our future. We each need to ask ourselves what that future will be. We pay a high price when we look away from the Devil hiding in plain sight. But we can all take individual action by performing one good deed. That can make a difference.
It’s easy to treat that last sentence as naïve. It takes more than that, but it’s a good start.
What’s needed is you and I collectively standing up to bullies.
What about bullies with a gun or machete? That takes a different type of courage, and each one of us must answer our question to that.
Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, honors the victims of the Holocaust and the Jews who fought against their Nazi oppressors. It also honors Gentiles, who selflessly aided Jews in need during that horrible time.
We don’t need to wait for another Holocaust. That began as a series of small events when it was possible to stop the ultimate horror. We need to be alert to similar sequences of small events happening around us today. People who lived through that time are apt to say they hear echoes of those dark years in words today. We ignore them at our peril.
We fail to see the Devil standing off to the side—in plain sight—cheering his fan base onward.
It’s real, this game of Whack-a-Devil we play. We can’t afford to stop. Are you ready to play, and where do you start?
As individuals, it’s hard to imagine taking on the big picture, the whole danger. We see the growing world-wide rise of Nationalism, putting one’s country or religious belief over another. Do we see it here, fanatical patriotism, excessive saluting, and flag-waving? Ethnocentricity—wanting everyone else to live by our standards— is a slippery slope. It leads to a fear of others, a reason to justify modern-day totalitarianism, even holy war.
Step back from that big picture for a moment. After all, we don’t eat the entire pie or cake at once. We cut pies and cakes into slices, then bite-sized pieces.
That’s our cue. We can take on the bite-sized pieces of hatred. The next time you hear someone voice racist or attack a particular religious belief, are you prepared to hold up a hand and say, “stop?”
The next time you see a social media or video post that is passing on misinformation, or even worse, disinformation, what will you do?
If you see someone being bullied, what can you do?
There is something you can do. It’s something we must all do.
Begin by turning off opinion-influencing talk radio shows, cable news talking heads, podcasts, and the opinions of others. Form your own opinion. Take a deep breath and identify your own bigotry and racism. Yes, we all have that blind spot.
I’m not guiltless. When I was writing this, I knew it was a message for me as well as anyone else.
That said, I hope we can all find the courage to hold out our palm to evil, to the Devil, as if to say, “Talk to the Hand.” It’s devilishly hard, but we must put a stop to hate.
In the name of Jesus, Allah, God, and all that is right, we must!
Chuck Waldron ~ 08/19/2020