evil

Touch of Evil (Part 2 of 2)

Joe_Arpaio_(28119158734)

Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaking at a campaign rally with Governor Mike Pence at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, 2 August 2016. (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Joe Arpaio was detested in Arizona for the very same reasons for which he was idolized. This explains both his electoral victories (Arpaio was re-elected five times) and the vehemence with which opposing segments of the public—especially minorities—viewed his tenure as sheriff.

He delighted in punishing and humiliating inmates in his infamous “Tent City” jail, where temperatures could rise over 100 degrees in the summer: “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant.” Prisoners’ meals were cut down: “it costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates.” Successful lawsuits against the sheriff’s office for mistreatment of prisoners and wrongful deaths of inmates have been awarded dozens of millions of dollars. (more…)

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Denial

"St. Peter's Denial" by Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 1660. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“St. Peter’s Denial” by Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 1660. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Armand Gamache had always held unfashionable beliefs. He believed that light would banish the shadows. That kindness was more powerful than cruelty, and that goodness existed, even in the most desperate places. He believed that evil had its limits. But looking at the young men and women staring at him now, who’d seen something terrible about to happen and had done nothing, Chief Inspector Gamache wondered if he could have been wrong all this time.

Maybe the darkness sometimes won. Maybe evil had no limits.

–Louise Penny, How the Light Gets In (Minotaur Books, 2013), p. 271

Perhaps evil knows no limit. Who hasn’t come to that conclusion from time to time? Perhaps it feeds on kindness rather than succumbs to it. Perhaps the light of conscience flickers and eventually dies in the darkest recess of our collective psyche. Perhaps our fears and insecurities ultimately prevail over the impulse to goodness and compassion. (more…)

Return of the Evildoers

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Barack Obama generally avoids the use of the term “evildoers.” That is the language of his predecessor, Bush-the-warmonger. One can make too much of the differences between the two presidents on matters of foreign policy. Both are leaders of the war state and, accordingly, conversant with the demonology of US war culture, which can be more or less nuanced. Early signs are that Jeb Bush prefers his brother’s bluntness.

Jeb’s anticipated run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination has occasioned the return of the language of evildoers (Ed O’Keefe, “The World According to Jeb Bush,” Washington Post, April 16, 2015). The term distances him from Obama’s foreign policy, which is a policy of “retrenchment,” according to the younger brother of George. (more…)

American Underdog

Underdog. (Credit: Randomnessu / Wikimedia Commons)

Underdog. (Credit: Randomnessu / Wikimedia Commons)

The archetypal myth of the underdog is not always so explicit as David slaying Goliath or so blatant as Rocky Balboa defeating Soviet boxer Ivan Drago on Christmas Day in Moscow. Sometimes the myth is veiled but equally compelling.

Walter Pincus’ recent report in the Washington Post on the “Islamic State’s Bloody Message Machine” is a case in point. The story in paraphrase goes like this: (more…)

Fifteen Minutes

President Barack Obama delivers an address to the nation on the U.S. Counterterrorism strategy to combat ISIL, in the Cross Hall of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama delivers an address to the nation on the U.S. Counterterrorism strategy to combat ISIL, in the Cross Hall of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Fifteen minutes. That’s how long the ritual took the president to renew the nation’s commitment to war.

If you were watching the Reds play the Cardinals, you could flip over to a station carrying the president’s speech at 9:00 p.m. without missing a whole inning. Or you could catch the speech online after the game.

ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)—otherwise known as ISIS (substitute Syria for the Levant) or simply as the Islamic State—is the name of the new enemy in America’s open-ended war on terrorism. But ISIL-ISIS-Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state, according to President Obama. It is a terrorist organization that kills innocent people contrary to the teaching of Islam or any religion.

None of this surprised the public. True to form, the efficient ceremony was completed in three crisp acts. (more…)

On the Category of Evil

Variant of the jihadist black flag. This particular version is used by the "Islamic State of Iraq" and by al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Variant of the jihadist black flag. This particular version is used by the “Islamic State of Iraq” and by al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The President considers what kind and how much of a military engagement the U.S. should undertake against the “cancer” of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, high-ranking administration officials (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of State) characterize the Islamic State as a “barbaric” and “apocalyptic” terrorist organization that must be “contained,” “defeated,” and “destroyed” because it poses an “imminent threat.” This enemy is “beyond anything we’ve seen,” the Defense Secretary insists, “so we must prepare for everything” (The Guardian, 22 August 2014).

Columnist Richard Cohen, originally a supporter of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, says now “we are once again up against the question of evil.” The slow and painful decapitation of photojournalist James Foley in the name of the Islamic State was an act of “pure evil.” This enemy “murders with abandon. It seems to love death the way the fascists once did.” It “massacres” Shiite Muslims and kills Yazidis, taking “as plunder their women as concubines.” (more…)