When President Bush speaks about the "axis of evil," humanists shift uncomfortably in their seats. The word "evil" to a humanist is like the word "God" to an atheist. It is simply not part of his or her belief system.

Evil is a reality, not a matter of taste or relative values. "One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter" is a repudiation of any meaningful values. Such mesmerizing of our moral capacities is the ultimate legerdemain of evil; if you can't see it, you can't fight it.

Humanists, who usually inhabit the liberal end of the political spectrum, are quick to array themselves against those they call "fundamentalists." Such "fundamentalists" are usually painted as Bible-thumping, religious fanatics. But "fundamentalism" also refers to "a point of view characterized by rigid adherence to fundamental or basic principles." What could be more rigid than adhering to the belief in the essential goodness of man after the Holocaust? After the Ramallah lynching? After the beheading of Daniel Pearl?

Photo courtesy of ZekeSneaker via C.C. license at FlickrIf They Knew Us, They Would Love Us

Professor Judea Pearl of UCLA marked the yahrzeit of his son by writing an article published in the Wall Street Journal (February 20):

The murder weapon in Danny's case was aimed not at a faceless enemy or institution, but at a gentle human being -- one whose face is now familiar to millions of people around the world. Danny's murderers spent a week with him; they must have seen his radiating humanity. Killing him so brutally, and in front of a video camera, marked a new low in man's inhumanity to man. People of all faiths were thus shocked to realize that mankind can still be dragged to such depths by certain myths and ideologies.

Personally, I am shocked that two years after the Ramallah lynching, fifty-eight years after the Holocaust, and seventy-four years after the Hebron massacre, that we could be "shocked to realize that mankind can still be dragged to such depths."

The whole world saw the video of Arabs murdering two hapless Israeli reservists who took a wrong turn into Ramallah a year and a half before Daniel Pearl's kidnapping. The Arab mob disemboweled their victims and danced with their entrails.

In Jewish history, both former and recent, there are no "new lows in man's inhumanity to man," only old lows, repeated and recycled. In fact, the way Danny was murdered, by decapitation, was the murder mode of choice during the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-49, when nearly 100,000 Jews were slaughtered.

In his grief, Professor Pearl finds it hard to comprehend why, after spending a week with his gentle son, seeing "his radiating humanity," his captors did not repent of their hatred. After knowing him for a week at close range, how could they have killed him?

The Jewish tendency to trust in the humanity of those who hate us is as old as Jew-hatred itself. In the Hebron Massacre of 1929, sixty-seven Jews were tortured and brutally murdered by their Arab neighbors who had lived next door to them for decades. The story of Ben Tzion Gershon was typical.

Ben Tzion, who had worked for years as a pharmacist in the Hadassah clinic in Hebron, was known for his acts of kindness to his Arab neighbors. He was so sure of their gratitude, so compassionate for their plight, that he opened his door to an Arab woman feigning labor pains on the first night of the rampage. The mob, hiding in the shadows, rushed in, tied up Ben Tzion, and gang-raped his wife. When he pleaded with them, calling them by their names to stop, they replied, "If you don't want to see it, you don't have to," and proceeded to poke out his eyes. In front of the Gershons' two daughters, their neighbors dismembered both Ben Tzion and his wife. The story was testified to by one of the daughters, who lived for a week before dying of her wounds. The other daughter spent the rest of her life in a mental institution.